In a musical world seemingly dominated by a media culture that demands instant fame or even notoriety for some of its protagonists, the word ‘star’ is banded about so often these days that its meaning can sometimes become lost and its brilliance diluted. Just occasionally however, this moniker comes to rest on the shoulders of an artist whose stage presence, talent, and ability to instantly captivate an audience sets them clearly apart from the rest.
Such is the case of a young lady from China by the name of Xuefei Yang, who, despite her slender frame and relatively tender years, currently stands astride the classical guitar world like a mini-colossus and a true torchbearer following in the footsteps of Segovia, Bream and Williams.
Xuefei Yang (left) and Richard Harvey play the haunting “Parting at Yuang Guan”.
It was something of a real privilege therefore for the many concertgoers at Silver Lake Vineyard at the end of December to be able to witness at first hand this Chinese star’s prodigious talent as she performed a full repertoire of her skills at a charity concert held in aid of the MAE Foundation.
Xuefei Yang is something of an anomaly in the guitar world. Born and raised in a nation that customarily encouraged its youth to take up the violin or piano, or traditional instruments like the pipa, and which at the same time considered the guitar to be nothing more than a novelty, Xuefei was introduced to the instrument at an early age after first picking one up at the age of seven. Despite encountering some initial obstacles, there being no guitar faculty anywhere in the country not least being one, she resolved to continue and was duly rewarded for her persistence.
Young Thai musician Pongsakorn Lertsakorakul gave a virtuoso performance on the marimba.
By the age of 10 she was already considered a prodigy and performed to some acclaim at the First Chinese National Guitar Festival in 1987. She followed that up a year later by placing second at the Beijing Senior Guitar competition.
From the age of twelve she was performing regularly in places as far flung as Portugal and Australia and at 14 she made her debut performance in Madrid in front of the composer Joaquin Rodrigo. She came to the attention of guitar maestro John Williams four years later when he saw her on stage in Beijing and was so impressed that he immediately offered to lend two of his finest guitars for both her and her fellow students at the conservatory to use.
Xuefei Yang put on a guitar masterclass.
It’s no surprise therefore that Xuefei counts Williams as one of her main influences and she went on to become the first guitarist to be admitted to the prestigious Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing; and after moving to London in 2000, the first Chinese guitar player to study in the UK and the first to gain entrance to the Royal Academy of Music.
Since then the fame of this trailblazer from the East has spread worldwide and she is rightly now regarded as one of the premier and most innovative classical guitarists performing regularly today.
At Silver Lake, Xuefei began her recital by performing four duets with guitar colleague Neil Muir. First up was a beautiful rendition of “Londonderry Air” (better known as Danny Boy) followed by Enrique Granados’ serene “Spanish dance no 2 Oriental.”
The tempo of the music then increased as Xuefei and Neil switched continents to South America with the choice of Brazilian composer João Pernambuco’s “Sons de Carrilhões (Sounds of Bells)” and the fun and lively folk song “Pica Pica.”
As Neil took a well earned breather, Xuefei continued on the Latin theme with a brace of Tango numbers including her brilliant performance of Uruguayan composer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez’s “La Cumparsita”, with flaying arms and all, followed by Roland Dyens “Tango en Skai.”
Xuefei Yang has earned a reputation for her daring interpretations of music not normally considered suitable or in some cases even possible for the guitar, such as her next piece which was transcribed from Wang Huiran’s “Yi Dance”, originally composed for traditional Chinese instrument the pipa.
Her rendition of this stunning song had the audience enthralled; such is the complexity of this music which required her full range of skills, including her fantastic tremolo technique to be demonstrated to great effect.
After another tango number transcribed from an opera by Manuel de Falla, Xuefei was joined on stage by world renowned musician and impresario for this concert, Richard Harvey. With Richard playing the traditional Chinese woodwind instrument, the xun (similar to a small clay pot), the duo performed a haunting and evocative adaptation of the ancient Chinese musical piece “Parting at Yuang Guan” that seemed to reach into the hearts of all those in the audience.
(From left): Neil Muir, Dennis Dila, Pongsakorn Lertsakorakul, Pumrat Ryukaewma, Richard Harvey, Xuefei Yang, and Silver Lake owner Surachai Tangjaitrong pose for a photo at the conclusion of the concert at Silver Lake Vineyard, December 28, 2011.
Reverting back to the Latin theme, the duo followed this up with Astor Piazzolla’s “Café 1930 – Histoire du Tango” following which Xuefei completed her solo pieces for the evening with a great performance of Manuel de Falla’s “Spanish Dance No 1” from the Opera ‘La Vida Breve’.
The concert was brought to a conclusion with Xuefei and Richard being joined on stage by Thailand’s outstanding young marimba player Pongsakorn Lertsakorakul and Pumrat Ryukaewma on percussion as the quartet belted out a stirring finale with Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango.”
It was fitting that Pongsakorn was included in the final piece as he had earlier provided a stellar warm-up to the main event with a virtuoso marimba performance, showcasing the skills that saw him win the prestigious Conrad Young Musician Competition in 2008.
It was however the main luminary of the concert, Xuefei, who gave the most liberal sprinkling of stardust to the evening and those who were fortunate to witness the show, and indeed guitar lovers worldwide, can be safe in the knowledge that in this young Chinese lady the music world not only has a truly shining star, but also one most definitely still on the rise!