Internationally celebrated Chinese classical guitarists like Xuefei Yang are rare, as western music was banned during China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. “The guitar was associated with pop music, the Beatles, the image of having long hair and hooligans, and jeans were seen as a symbol of capitalism,” Yang says. “For a communist country, it’s not a very nice image.” But born in Beijing after the Cultural Revolution, Yang had the opportunity to take up the instrument as a hobby. When she was ten, her open-minded parents took her to the first Guitar Festival in Zhuhai, where she was the only junior contestant.
Yang went on to study at the Central Conservatory of Music and become the first guitar student to graduate in the mainland. She has since performed in more than 50 countries, collaborated with top music talents such as Irish flute player Sir James Galway, and appeared at the BBC Proms, Britain’s annual summer season of daily classical music concert. Gramophone magazine has praised her as one of the “leading innovators of her generation for continuing to build the guitar repertoire”.
She recently stepped in for Miloš Karadaglić when the Montenegro superstar guitarist could not make it to Hong Kong due to travel restrictions, and will perform in the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Year Celebration concert on December 29 and 30.
Here, Yang shares what a day in her life is like when she’s preparing for a concert.
Life on the road as a guitarist can be quite busy, so I make sure that I get some practice done in the morning after a simple breakfast of bread, a boiled egg and some coffee. That way, I can separate my hours of practice to make sure I don’t strain my hands and fingers.
Guitarists are similar to athletes in the sense that is it very important to warm up our muscles before practising. I design warm-up exercises for myself: sometimes I play parts of different pieces of music; sometimes I run through a combination of technical skills that help me memorise the long pieces that I perform; and sometimes I listen to renditions played by other musicians as a reference for my own interpretation.
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