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The Lifetime Achievement of Maestro Jahja Ling, by Diana Chou


Art and music have been proven to be among the most magical remedies for souls and the most powerful inspirations for minds. Marching into a new year, an exhibition on Maestro Jahja Ling will be the inauguration exhibition for reopening the SDCHM in 2021; this exhibition will not only celebrate a successful Chinese-American narrative, but also bring a joyful dimension for your museum’s experience.

Maestro Jahja Ling 林望傑 (b.1951), an accomplished musician and Chinese-American, is well-known for his masterships in piano performance and orchestra conducting, and recognized for revitalizing the San Diego Symphony Orchestra (fig. 1). Jahja Ling, as a musical prodigy since his childhood, embarked on his musical journeys from Indonesia (his birth place) where he immersed in European culture and music, and later through the trainings in both the Juilliard School and Yale University in the United States, where he settled, and flourished. Jahja Ling had a long-term career in conducting with youth orchestras and symphony orchestras that ranked in the top caliber in the U.S.A., namely the Boston Symphony Orchestra (in Tanglewood) and Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. On the national and global scales, Jahja Ling was also on stage with many accomplished musicians, such as the cellist Yo-yo Ma 馬友友 (fig. 2) and the pianist Lang Lang 朗郎. His final concerts at San Diego Orchestra Symphony in 2018 marveled the audiences (including the author) with his energy and passion for the interpretations of classical music.

Jahja Ling’s successful and public persona often eclipses his Christian faith. Jahja, a Biblical name and a variation of Yahya or Jehiah, means “God is gracious.” His encounter of the Christianity and music began simultaneously at the age of four, which was introduced by Ms. Tse-Siu Lee. Miss Lee, perhaps, was a key master for opening up a world of music, hymns, and Christianity to Jahja Ling. In various interviews, Maestro Jahja Ling would equally credited Ms. Lee among his professional mentors for his musical success. Ms. Lee seems to have a profound influence on his belief in both Christianity and the innate gifts in music and peoples.  The SDCHM, acknowledging the Bonita Museum and Cultural Center for its effort, as the first organization to develop and install this exhibition (in 2018), will continue and present a retrospective overview of Maestro Jahja Ling’s musical achievements and journey, including his significant relationship with San Diego and its community. Furthermore, this exhibition will reveal Ling’s personal and unyielding dedication to the church choir after his retirement. Some of the virtual programs of this exhibition also intend to showcase younger generations of Chinese- American musicians who admire and were inspired by Maestro Jahja Ling. Once more, this exhibition is to share Jahja Ling’s musical passions to his audiences, because “music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life” as timelessly remarked by Jean Paul (the 18th century German novelist).

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