Autumn in Beijing, with the light, whispering wind slowly bringing the falling leaves to the earth, seemingly a prelude to winter. However, the weather has failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds hurrying on their way towards the National Grand Theatre. Within half an hour, the curtain will rise and Lu Jia will deftly wield his familiar baton, prompting the score and notes to dance.
A few months later, over on the other side of the world in Maranello, Lu Jia is visiting Ferrari’s fabled factory. ‘This is definitely not in keeping with the usual image of a cold factory; it has its own soul and passion, it is very human oriented. It reflects the sentiment of Italian people towards life.’
Lu Jia is full of praise for this special place. The workers are dedicated to their craft in the surroundings of a lush landscape, surrounded by classic cars created over half a century ago. For the staff at Maranello, they are not making vehicle parts, but creating great works of art. Lu Jia is a true Shanghainese but, in his own words, he has ‘an understanding of Italian opera greater than most Italians have’. Born on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, he spent a carefree childhood and, like Herbert von Karajan, had fun pretending to be a conductor, something he’d dreamt of being from a young age. He pursued his dream through tireless effort, backed up with the full support of his family. At the age of 25 he gave up a comfortable home life and moved to Germany to continue his studies. ‘My experience in Germany was very short, but also very difficult. Still, it remains my fondest memory,’ Lu Jia says with a smile. ‘Perhaps it’s only through such an exhausting effort that one can get the mandate of Heaven.’ Later, while sojourning in Italy and Sweden, he formed a group of musicians, with local people calling him “the Maestro”. He became the first ever Chinese to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He says, with a smile, that his character is a little Italian: sensual and delicate. When it comes to music and life, he is passionate and idealistic. He smile again. ‘Isn’t that rather similar to Ferrari’s temperament?’
During that visit to Maranello, Lu Jia met with Luca di Montezemolo and, although they were of different nationality and background, they shared the same enthusiasm and perspectives on music in general and opera in particular. And certainly the conductor has a true passion for racing, even participating in the unveiling of the 2011 season’s 150° Italia F1 car. He explains: ‘I like the sense of speed that you get from racing cars. From the moment the driver eases himself into the seat and the engine starts, the sound strikes a note that makes my blood and cells start to dance. It is an exciting and joyful sound. I might not have a steering wheel in my hand, it is like my familiar baton.’
For Lu Jia, each time at the podium is an event full of passion and control; there’s a real parallel between the emotions he feels and those that Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa experience driving their F1 cars.
Just as the two Ferrari drivers are always in full control of what they are doing, so Lu Jia focuses fully on conducting; on the understanding of his work. It’s this understanding that unlocks the rhythm and melodious interpretation of the music. ‘After all, music is a kind of enjoyment in which the distinction between the self and the outer world disappears,’ he says. ‘This sort of audio pleasure and emotion is the same as the experience of driving an excellent car.’ Lu Jia develops this theme of music and driving further: ‘Sound produces different emotions in people. The sound of a Ferrari engine is the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard. It has the most direct impact, like the beginning of a symphony. This process that combines creation and enjoyment is indescribable. While I enjoy the auditory feeling when conducting, driving creates a tactile experience. Both give people the same spiritual emotion. When Ferrari does its marathon tuning, and try from Berlin a dedicated team tests the sound of the engine and its affect on people’s sensory organs, this sort of fine tuning, which comes from Ferrari’s persistent pursuit of the perfect car, demonstrates the continuation of precision that is part of Italian culture.’
The conductor first encountered the joys of the Prancing Horse some 20 years ago, when living in Italy. ‘At that time, I often drove a Ferrari F40, and I very nearly bought one. I like to drive eightcylinder cars like the California, which has excellent manoeuvrability. They are very responsive and you feel the passion more directly.’ Driving such a car is just like conducting a symphony, a way of expressing philosophy and artistic conception more directly than an opera, for instance. ‘Driving and conducting are the same, a combination of physical strength and intellect. I like to take a serious attitude towards the interpretation of happiness.’ As with many artists, Lu Jia has his own unique perspective. ‘A car is like a great piece of art, just like a symphony or drama. Ferrari is not a normal car; it is Italy’s cultural ambassador. From a Ferrari, we can understand the culture, tradition and passion of Italy.
The most impressive architectural works for me are La Scala and the National Grand Theatre in Beijing; one a representative of Italian theatre, the other a rising platform, both giving me a really profound feeling. The depth of a musical work, combined with the audience and concert hall, can produce different feelings. So, every performance for me is an artistic creation.’
Lu Jia is a man who pursues perfection and full attention to detail; a man who believes conducting music and driving a Ferrari are much the same thing, a combination of passion and control. Passion comes before everything: ‘I believe that most Ferrari owners around the world do not buy the cars simply because of the brand’s reputation, but because they truly appreciate the spirit behind Ferrari.’ Cars created at Maranello have their own unique design concept, from styling to the engines and their perfect handling. Lu Jia nods. ‘With a good car, depending on your creativity, you can make each part function to the fullest. Just like this 458 Italia here in front of me. It is the same thing as when I am conducting. It all depends on how you bring the various parts together. The car is very important, but the spirit you bring to driving is even more so.’
To this end, during every rehearsal of a symphony or opera, Lu Jia communicates closely with the musicians to reach a common understanding of the work in question. Only by infusing the artist’s personality with the performers can the various members of the orchestra or cast realise their full talent and achieve the truest interpretation. As Lu Jia bids goodbye, it is approaching midday.
He has to rush off to the National Grand Theatre for another rehearsal. His dream is to help the theatre achieve an international profile. That magic baton will accompany the conductor through years of glory; under his leadership, the notes will dance across continents and oceans. Just like Ferrari’s Prancing Horse and the engine’s low, powerful growl, endlessly transmitting centuries of Italian culture.
Published in The Official Ferrari Magazine issue 13, May 2011