Peripatetic Ling spreads his wings

The word that seems best to describe the career of Jahja (pronounced YAK-ya) Ling is "blossoming."

The energetic, dynamic conductor is enjoying his first season as music director of the Blossom Music Center, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra, about 25 miles south of the city.

He's also racking up frequent-flier miles as director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan and the Florida Symphony, based in the Tampa area. And his guest-conducting tour in coming months includes stops in Detroit, Houston, Atlanta, and Japan.

Ling, who was born in Indonesia of Chinese heritage and is now an American citizen, has been resident conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra since 1984. (He assists Christoph von Dohnanyi, who is music director of the orchestra.)

But heading up Blossom has given him a fresh venue for exploring his own musical ideas. In a recent phone conversation, he was ebullient about his plans.

For example, Ling commissioned James Horner, the Oscar-winning composer of the "Titanic" score, to write a fanfare to open the festival. He also commissioned "Song in Sorrow," in memory of the victims of Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970, a local tragedy.

The orchestra performed Gustav Holst's "The Planets" while videos taken from the Voyager spacecraft were shown on giant screens. Tomorrow Ling and friends will accompany clips of classic movies. (It's something "a little bit different for young people," he says. But "the music is still the center" of the evening.)

He's also introducing young artists like 17-year-old pianist Lang Lang and 16-year-old cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Mixed in with major works, like Beethoven's Ninth, are light classical pieces "for audiences that won't come to Severance Hall," the home of the Cleveland Orchestra. In the future, Ling wants to bring opera works to the festival and start an artist-in-residence program.

In Osaka, Japan, Sept. 3 and 5, he will lead a musical "dream team." The players of the Superworld Orchestra come from the world's finest ensembles, including Vienna, Philadelphia, Boston, Berlin, Paris, and Chicago.

How will he unite some of the best players from many lands under one baton? "Music is a universal language," he says. He'll seek from his players only "what the composer wanted" when he wrote the music.

Trained in the German classics (and a student of Leonard Bernstein), Ling counts Anton (Joseph) Bruckner (1824-1896) and Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) among his favorite composers. Bruckner's music is "profound" and "God centered," says Ling, who is an active Christian. Mahler's inspiration, he says, is "human centered." Bruckner's music is "more like a love between the Creator and his creation," full of "worshipping, praising."

What's ahead? Ling says he wants to go wherever "I can make a difference.... I try my best here [in Cleveland] and make the greatest music [I can].

"The rest I leave up to God."

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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