20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Classical Guitarist Xuefei Yang

Classic Arts Features   20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Classical Guitarist Xuefei Yang
A fan of Mamma Mia! and Charlie Parker, Yang is the first Chinese guitarist to attain professional status on the international classical circuit. She has performed concertos with the world's leading orchestras and will record her latest CD for EMI this summer.

The now internationally acclaimed artist's talent recognized early _ at the age of 14 she made her Spanish debut in Madrid, with the composer Joaquin Rodrigo attending her concert. Her first EMI CD, Romance De Amor achieved a gold disc, and her second, 40 Degrees North, was recognized in China as the best classical CD of 2009, and CD of the month in Gramophone. In summer 2009 Xuefei will record her third CD for EMI, with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra.

Xuefei has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, including a successful performance at the BBC Proms, and an interview for "Woman's Hour" on BBC Radio 4. In 2009 Xuefei performed at the Brit Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Xuefei was the subject of a documentary by CCTV in China. In the 2009/10 season, Xuefei will be performing in the USA in San Francisco, Seattle, Washington and Salem.

1. A few works of classical music that you adore:

There are too many to list, but some of the many that come to mind include Dvorak's New World Symphony; Bach's Cello Suites; Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto; Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp; Debussy's Claire De Lune number Three; and most of Chopin's music.

2. Classical music recordings that you treasure:

Again there are many I could list. A few that come to mind immediately include Jacqueline du Pre's recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto; Rostropovich's recordings of Bach's Cello Suites; the album John Williams Plays Spanish Music; Together by John Williams and Julian Bream; The Complete Guitar Recordings by Agustin Barrios

3. Favorite non-classical musicians and/or recordings:

I like all sorts of music, not just classical. For example, I enjoy listening to the Beatles, Pat Metheny, Edith Piaf and Charlie Parker. I like listening to the sound track of Black Orpheus by Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim. I am also amazed by the Meeting of Spirits live performance by Paco de Lucia, Larry Coryell and John McLaughlin. Recently I have been listening to Portuguese Fado music; a particular favorite is the singer Mariza. I also enjoy the Cuban music of the Buena Vista Social Club.

4. Music that makes you cry _ any genre:

Many pieces make me cry. Certain sections of all the music I listed in answer to question 1 can make me cry. I also get moved to tears when I perform some pieces, for example the slow movement of Rodrigo's Concerto De Aranjuez, or Tarrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

5. Definitely underrated work(s) or composer (s):

For guitar, I think the works of Giulio Regondi (a nineteenth century composer and guitar prodigy), and Silvius Leopold Weiss (a prolific composer, great lute player, and a contemporary of Bach) are underrated.

6. Possibly overrated work(s) or composer (s):

In my opinion, some of the sonatas in the guitar repertoire are over rated. Sometimes guitarists play sonatas just for the sake of playing longer pieces. However I think the piano and violin, for example, have many great sonatas to choose from. The fact is that there are very few truly good sonatas for guitar. However, there are many wonderful pieces in smaller form for the guitar.

7. Live music performance (s) you attended _ any genre _ that you'll never forget:

The first time I heard John Williams play live in China, when I was still a teenager. He played the Spanish repertoire and the music stayed with me. Most recently, I recall a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestro Bernard Haitink in Beijing's new National Centre. It was so memorable to hear one of the world's best orchestra's with a great conductor, playing in the new magnificent hall in my home town of Bejing. I also got the chance to shake hands with the conductor following the concert.

8. A few relatively recent films you love:

I enjoyed seeing the movie Mamma Mia, starring Meryl Streep. I also enjoyed watching Notting Hill, starring Julia Roberts. I saw that movie three times. I also enjoy the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, starring Yun-Fat Chow, and directed by Ang Lee. As a Chinese person, I think this movie has greater meaning to me, as the English subtitles do not really convey the subtlety of meaning that is present in the Chinese dialogue.

9. A few films you consider classics:

Some of my favourite include the movie Somewhere in Time with Jane Seymour. I also like The Ladykillers with Peter Sellers, and It's a Wonderful Life with James Stewart. The Pianist by Roman Polanski. Knowing about the history and culture of China, I am also deeply moved by the movie Farewell my Concubine with Kaige Chen.

10. A book (or two) that is important to you (and why):

My diary! Many books have influenced me at different times and in different ways, but the one constant companion is my diary. I play many concerts all over the world, and need to have a close eye on my calendar.

11. Thing(s) about yourself that you're most proud of:

I am most proud of the fact that I have been given the opportunity in life to enjoy music, and bring music to people around the world. It is a great privilege.

12. Thing(s) about yourself that you're embarrassed by:

I get embarrassed if I am having a bad day performing on-stage.

13. Three things you can't live without:

Music, my guitar, and my computer.

14. "When I want to get away from it all I..."

Take myself shopping! I also like to stay at home, read magazines, and put on some music.

15. "People are surprised to find out that I..."

am quite lively and humorous. Many people seem to expect a Chinese person to be more serious and demure.

16. "My favorite cities are..."

I love the history, architecture, romanticism and culture of Paris and Granada. I love the bustle, the food, and the mix of East and West that you can find in Hong Kong.

17. "I have a secret crush on..."

dogs _ particularly golden retrievers, but I can't keep one as I travel a lot.

18. "My most obvious guilty pleasure is..."

Leaving my guitar in its case for a couple of days, and having a break from practice.

19. "I'd really love to meet (or to have met)..."

The guitarist Segovia would be on my list as he was probably the person who established the guitar as a concert instrument. I would also love to meet the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as I love the cello, and his music. The composer Isaac Alb_niz would also be on my list as I am going to record his music this summer.

20. "I never understood why..."

I always try to have a clear answer to any question I am asked. I am realizing more and more that there isn't always a simple answer to all questions, and that finding an answer is not always the way to deal with life. Music can help provide some meaning and light for these darker corners in our life.


21. Question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer to that question):

Q: Would you like to come and perform in The White House?

A: Yes !


Yang's schedule and other information can be found at www.xuefeiyang.com.

Past installments of 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS:

Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti

Soprano Nicole Cabell

Pianist Jonathan Biss

Tenor Ian Bostridge

Soprano Danielle de Niese

New-Music Sextet eighth blackbird

Composer and Violinist Mark O'Connor

Composer Jake Heggie

Composer Ricky Ian Gordon

Pianist David Greilsammer


Albert Imperato, a music promoter who co-founded 21C Media Group in January 2000, writes frequently about the arts for various publications and blogs.

His new series, 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS, is his take on (and nod to) Vanity Fair's "Proust Questionnaire."

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