About Lan Shui

6 min read

I discovered at choir practice Monday night that several women in the chorus are drooling over Lan Shui. My popularity ranking increased enormously when I announced my secret connection to him: we have the same massage guy.

Sunny The Massage Guy
Sunny is a freelance reflexologist. I’ve held the prime Sunday afternoon slot with him for 7 years. Sunny seems to "do"  a variety of famous people including GK Goh’s wife and other family members. They referred Lan Shui to him. Initially this was just as and when LS was visiting Singapore. Since he became the Music Director of the SSO, the massage sessions are more regular. Sunny sees Lan Shui right after
me because, as it turns out, Lan Shui is my neighbour.

Sunny does reflexology, full body massage, is a former Kung Fu master, can tell you how to kill someone with your umbrella. He also knows an obscure form of Qi Gong which he’ll teach you for free if you’re an old client and not likely to use your powers for evil.

Because of Sunny, I’m regularly informed of whether Lan Shui is in or out of town. Mostly it’s the latter and usually he’s in some frozen Scandinavian country. The change of climate is not always easy and when he last came back from conducting in Denmark he came down with the flu for 3 days.

Oh the poor dear. What he needs is some of my chicken soup…
Ladies, before you rush over with your herbal remedies, let me continue.

I can’t tell you what kind of car he drives, because it’s a rental and always changes. I do know what his rent is though. It’s a lot less than mine and I’m thinking of complaining to my landlord.

I’ve also learned that his wife is from Iceland… and he met her in the States.

If any of this is wrong, blame Sunny.

The word "wife" has not gone down so well with the Lan Shui groupies in the chorus nor has my inability to furnish a description of her. I think they were hoping the word "fat" would creep up. Sorry, but I’ve never laid eyes on the woman and Sunny has not volunteered the info so I’m not asking.

LS’s marital status has forced a reassesment. The chorus ladies have now decided that a life which involves frequent trips to Nordic climates can’t be great no matter how charming, cute and talented your husband is.

Mr. Nice Guy

I can personally attest to the fact that he is genuinely a nice guy.

While being massaged one afternoon, I was moaning to a friend about how I was unable to get a ticket to the Esplanade opening concert. The Esplanade is across the street from my office and having watch it come up over the previous two years, I practically felt like I owned the place. But the  first performance of the SSO for the Opening Gala was by invitation only.

Sunny, despite having only a 30 word vocabulary in English (mostly consisting of words like "pain" "sore" "hurt") picked up what I said. An hour later my phone rang.

"Hi, this is Lan Shui."

I was dumbstruck and mumbled something witty like "Oh Wow uh, uh.."

"Do you speak Chinese?"

Why did I stop those damn “Mandarin in 3 Months” tapes???.

"No I’m SO sorry I don’t!"

He continued in English which was actually quite good except for a strong accent. He told me that someone from his party, from Denmark, couldn’t make it and if I would like, I could take the ticket.

He didn’t know me AT ALL and was inviting me to join his wife and friends for the concert.

In the end, I couldn’t go because the Esplanade staff said that for security reasons, they could not change the name on the invitation. By that point it didn’t matter so much to me – I’d already got the best invitation in Singapore, even if I couldn’t take it.

I only met him face to face about 6 months later. I went to one of the chamber music concerts at the Victoria Concert Hall. When the concert started, I moved out of my seat to one unoccupied which was a bit better. No sooner had I done this than someone took the seat I’d just vacated. It was Lan Shui.

If the rightful owner of my new seat showed, what would I do? Boot the Maestro out of my seat?!

At the intermission I introduced myself. He was aware that I was in the Singapore Symphony Chorus thanks to Sunny, the double agent. We chatted a bit until he politely excused himself because our conversation was holding up the show… He was supposed to be conducting after the intermission.

Since then, I’ve only dealt with him as a member of the chorus. He was very patient with us.. perhaps even lax. I wonder if he takes us seriously? We’re a bunch of amateurs and he had only 3 rehearsals to influence our performance. Either he was very pleased with us to start with or he decided we’re a write off and he preferred to concentrate on the orchestra – a group of professionals and the main driver of the performance. Edit: One theory later mentioned to me was that perhaps he thought better of suggesting improvements to Lim Yau’s chorus!

This picture really captures how I see him.

We had three practices for Mahler’s second and then we performed it on two consecutive nights. Watching him conduct was very exciting. He gets totally lost in the music. Sitting in the middle of the choir, I definitely had the best seat in the house to watch his performance. I can’t say I noticed that his suit was too big for him – a fact all my friends in the audience were fixated on. I was lost in the music and captivated by his passion.

That’s got to be worth a few visits to the freezing north.


Lan Shui –
Lan Shui

Lan Shui joined the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) as Music Director in 1997. Born in China, Lan Shui made his professional conducting debut with the Central Philharmonic Orchestra in Beijing and was later appointed Conductor of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra. As guest conductor, Lan Shui has conducted orchestras in the United States, Europe and Canada. he has also conducted the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Taipei (Taiwan) Symphony and Melbourne Symphony, and has performed at festivals in the United States (Tanglewood Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival, Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, Round Top Music Festival, Eastern Music Festival, National Orchestra Institute).

Shui is the recipient of several international awards, amongst them kudos from the Beijing Arts Festival, New York Tcherepnin Society, 37th Besancon Conductors Competition in France and Boston University Distinguished Alumni Award.

He currently divides his time between his post as Music Director of the SSO and engagements with orchestras all over the world.

FROM Singapore Conservatory of Music

Smarty Pants
"Hey, I saw an article in the SSO bulletin. It seems there was some private function where the original violin soloist was supposed to play a concerto but ended up with several false starts. In the end, Shui Lan exchanged places with him and the violinist conducted instead. Seems he hasn’t been playing the violin for some 20 years but managed to pull through the whole concerto."