Conductor Shui Lan (the Chinese order of his name; he bills himself as Lan Shui in English-speaking countries) began a quick rise to international attention in the 1990s.
He began violin studies at the age of five in his hometown. He started piano a few years later. All these studies were abruptly interrupted when Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong decreed his disastrous Cultural Revolution, attacking all Western music as decadent and bourgeois and shutting down every university. Shui's piano teacher committed suicide, and Shui set aside his instruments. He was able to resume studies a few years later, while he was still a teenager, when Mao backed up from the ruinous Cultural Revolution. To continue studies, however, he had to travel regularly to Beijing, a 28-hour train ride. After completing his studies he became a member of an opera orchestra in the capital. The conductor recognized in Shui the qualities of his profession, but could not convince the young player to give up the security of an orchestral job for conducting or composing. Then, while playing soccer, Shui injured his left hand to the extent he could not play professionally, and began to compose. Then his former conductor, feigning illness, had Shui called to take over a rehearsal of the orchestra. After Shui realized that he was successfully leading and rehearsing the musicians, the conductor showed up, and finally convinced Shui to pursue conducting studies. After five more years study in Beijing, Shui became the conductor of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra. He found the position frustrating, as the Communist regime insisted on a repertory of only standard Romantic-era works and a few approved works praising Communist Party and Red Army institutions. He was, therefore, happy to accept an offer to become a Masters Candidate in Conducting at Boston University in 1986, from which distance he witnessed the Tiananmen Square Student Uprising on television. He won several important prizes and recognition, including the Besançon International Conductors Competition. American conductor David Zinman says Shui has "the reflexes of a born conductor." Shui has held assistant or associate conducting positions with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In 1997 he became music director of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the leading ensemble in Southeast Asia, succeeding its founder, Choo Hoey. With that orchestra, he conducted for Sweden's Bis label the first complete recorded collection of the symphonies of Alexander Tcherepnin, the Russian composer who was brought up in Shanghai.