Yang Xuefei: clas­si­cal gui­tarist

World-renowned clas­si­cal gui­tarist Yang Xuefei to per­form in Kuala Lumpur.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By PATSY KAM taps@thes­tar.com.my

IF you’re not sure which mu­si­cal in­stru­ment your child should pick up, per­haps you might be in­spired by mu­sic prodigy Yang Xuefei. Yang, who hails from Bei­jing, is ac­claimed as one of the world’s finest clas­si­cal gui­tarists.

Born fol­low­ing the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion, an era when Western mu­sic and in­stru­ments were banned, Yang paved the way for the clas­si­cal gui­tar in China. She was the first ever Chi­nese gui­tarist to en­ter a mu­sic school and launch an in­ter­na­tional pro­fes­sional ca­reer.

She will be play­ing in Malaysia for the first time at the KL Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre (KLPac) on Nov 23 as part of the Bel Canto Con­cert and Sem­i­nar Se­ries 2010 or­gan­ised by the Clas­si­cal Mu­sic So­ci­ety.

Yang gave her first pub­lic ap­pear­ance at the age of 10 at the China In­ter­na­tional Gui­tar Fes­ti­val and the Span­ish Am­bas­sador in China was so im­pressed that he pre­sented her with a con­cert gui­tar.

Then, when play­ing in Tokyo, she was given a spe­cial award by the Gui­tar Al­liance of Ja­pan and the cel­e­brated Ja­panese luthier Masaru Kohno pre­sented her with one of his con­cert gui­tars.

Com­poser Joaquín Ro­drigo at­tended her de­but con­cert in Madrid when she was 14.

In 1995, world­-renowned Amer­i­can com­poser John Wil­liams gave two of his own Small­man gui­tars to her Con­ser­va­tory af­ter he heard her play in Bei­jing.

She made no small im­pact in the clas­si­cal mu­sic area as af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in Bei­jing with a de­gree, she gar­nered an in­ter­na­tional schol­ar­ship to pur­sue post­grad­u­ate stud­ies at The Royal Academy of Mu­sic in London.

She re­ceived a Recital Diploma, the high­est per­for­mance award con­ferred by the Royal Academy. She also won the Dorothy Grin­stead Prize and re­ceived the Prin­ci­pal’s Prize for ex­cep­tional all­round work.

Yang has re­mained in Bri­tain since, em­bark­ing on a pro­fes­sional ca­reer that sees her keep­ing a busy in­ter­na­tional sched­ule, per­form­ing at pres­ti­gious venues like Wig­more Hall, Royal Al­bert Hall, Royal Fes­ti­val Hall and Queen El­iz­a­beth Hall in London, Phil­har­monie Ber­lin, Lin­coln Cen­ter New York, and other in­ter­na­tional venues through­out the world. She is also reg­u­larly in­vited to per­form con­cer­tos with lead­ing orches­tras.

Yang has also ap­peared in a num­ber of ra­dio and tele­vi­sion pro­grammes, in­clud­ing a per­for­mance at the 2008 Clas­si­cal Brits on ITV1, BBC Ra­dio 4 Woman’s Hour, BBC Proms and China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion, which made a spe­cial bi­o­graph­i­cal doc­u­men­tary on her for their clas­si­cal mu­si­cian se­ries.

Off­stage, Yang is of­ten ac­tively ex­pand­ing her gui­tar reper­toire with her own ar­range­ments of pieces (of­ten adding Chi­nese mu­sic to the range) and col­lab­o­ra­tions with com­posers, in par­tic­u­lar a close col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bri­tish com­poser Stephen Goss.

She has an ex­clu­sive in­ter­na­tional record­ing con­tract with EMI Clas­sics and her de­but al­bum Ro­mance de Amor (re­leased in April 2006) reached gold­disc sta­tus in Hong Kong.

Her sec­ond al­bum 40 De­grees North (April 2008), fea­tur­ing mu­sic from Spain and her home­land China, reached No.2 in the in­stru­men­tal and cham­ber mu­sic charts in Bri­tain.

In an e­mail in­ter­view, Yang, 33, shares her mu­si­cal jour­ney with StarTwo. When were you in­tro­duced to clas­si­cal gui­tar?

I was seven years old. My par­ents wanted me to play a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment and the mu­sic teacher at my school had just started a gui­tar group, so I was put there with­out re­ally know­ing what it was.

The gui­tar chose me, rather than me choos­ing to play the gui­tar. How­ever, from the be­gin­ning I re­ally en­joyed play­ing it. If I had to choose all over again, I would still choose the gui­tar as I love its in­ti­macy. What was the very first gui­tar that you owned and what is your cur­rent gui­tar of choice?

I don’t re­call the brand, but it cost all of RMB20 (RM9.25). My dad bought it for me. I now have about a dozen gui­tars from around the world. For live per­for­mances, I usu­ally play my Greg Small­man gui­tar from Aus­tralia. For record­ings, I use a va­ri­ety of in­stru­ments, depend­ing on the mu­sic I am play­ing. As a world-class per­former, what are some of the chal­lenges that you en­counter?

As a Chi­nese mu­si­cian, I need a visa for most coun­tries and that can some­times be prob­lem­atic be­cause of the time needed to get the visas. Women are phys­i­cally not as strong as men, so trav­el­ling can be par­tic­u­larly drain­ing.

An­other prob­lem is that I need Asian food from time to time, no mat­ter where I am in the world! It’s of­ten hard to find nice Asian food in un­fa­mil­iar cities near the con­cert venue. What are some of your most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences?

Meet­ing Ro­drigo and Wil­liams for the first time! They are both my mu­sic he­roes.

One of the fun­ni­est mo­ments was dur­ing a mu­sic fes­ti­val in Europe which ad­ver­tised that I would be in a late night con­cert play­ing rock ‘n’ roll, dressed in black leather! (Not sure how that came about.) What is the tough­est part about be­ing a clas­si­cal gui­tarist?

There is no tra­di­tion of clas­si­cal gui­tar in China. I had many bat­tles to fight to make a ca­reer as a gui­tarist. Many artistes suc­ceed in their own coun­try be­fore mak­ing a name abroad but Chi­nese artistes who play Western in­stru­ments have to make a name for them­selves in the West. That was a tough jour­ney. I am very grate­ful to all my sup­port­ers in China, and gen­er­ally, in Asia.

How many hours do you prac­tise each day?

It de­pends. Ide­ally, it should be at least four hours. But trav­el­ling to con­certs makes that hard to main­tain. On the morn­ing of a live per­for­mance, I like to go through the whole pro­gramme and prac­tise the dif­fi­cult bits. I also spend time in the venue on the af­ter­noon of the con­cert to get used to the acous­tic of the hall.

Do you miss play­ing in China? Do you ever think of go­ing back to pro­mote the clas­si­cal gui­tar?

I make a point of play­ing in China each year, and other Asian coun­tries, and am hop­ing to do more. I want to in­tro­duce this in­stru­ment to Asian au­di­ences. I think it has the po­ten­tial to in­ter­est young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar. What are your thoughts on re­ceiv­ing the awards?

These awards please me be­cause they re­flect the fact that peo­ple in Asia are en­joy­ing my mu­sic. I am hop­ing my lat­est CD ( Ro­drigo

Con­certo), which I think is my best so far, will also be well re­ceived by Asian mu­sic lovers. Tell us more about your cur­rent project.

I recorded a con­certo disc in July this year with the or­ches­tra con­ducted by Eiji Oue. In ad­di­tion to Ro­drigo’s Aran­juez, EMI com­mis­sioned a new con­certo for me based on Al­b­eniz’s fa­mous pi­ano works. I also played a solo piece by each com­poser. For Al­b­eniz, I tran­scribed one of his lit­tle known and rarely played suites ( Es­pana), which works beau­ti­fully on the gui­tar. For Ro­drigo, I played his best solo work In­vo­ca­cion

y danza, which I also played in my Madrid de­but. Any fu­ture plans?

I hope to record some baroque reper­toire. My play­ing is still evolv­ing so I am cu­ri­ous to see where it will take me. I also have plans to play more of­ten in Asia. What is your per­sonal favourite piece of mu­sic?

I par­tic­u­larly like Concierto de Aran­juez by Ro­drigo and I love Evo­ca­cion by Al­b­eniz, which is also the cen­tral move­ment of the Al­b­eniz Con­certo that I recorded. What kind of mu­sic do you lis­ten to? What do you do to re­lax?

I lis­ten to all sorts of mu­sic. I like lis­ten­ing to jazz to re­lax. For sports, I like bad­minton, but I don’t play too well. I like chat­ting with friends, day­dream­ing at home, or shop­ping. Who in­spires you?

I don’t have any one per­son whom I take in­spi­ra­tion from. I find in­spi­ra­tion in many dif­fer­ent ways – from peo­ple, from events, from the world around me. n Yang’s third CD Concierto de Aran­juez for EMI is recorded with the Barcelona Sym­phony Or­ches­tra and fea­tures Ro­drigo’s Concierto de Aran­juez, and The Al­b­eniz Con­certo writ­ten for her by Stephen Goss. She will be giv­ing a con­cert at the Bent­ley Mu­sic Au­di­to­rium, Mu­tiara Da­mansara, Se­lan­gor: An Evening In Spain at 8.30pm on Nov 22. There will be a clas­si­cal gui­tar work­shop and mas­ter­class by Yang and con­cert: Clas­si­cal GuitarSolo at KLPac, 8.30pm on Nov 23. Ad­mis­sion by do­na­tion. For de­tails, e­mail: con­tac­tus@clas­si­cal­mu­sic­so­ci­ety.com.my or call: 017­889 3599, 012­696 1764, 016­203 4010. Web­site: clas­si­cal­mu­sic­so­ci­ety.com.my.

Strum­ming melodies: Yang Xuefei paved the way for the clas­si­cal gui­tar in China. ‘The gui­tar chose me, rather than me choos­ing to play the gui­tar,’ she says. – Photo cour­tesy of Wai Tong Kwang

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