Xuefei Yang is an unlikely guitar hero. Born in Beijing, in 1977, just after the cultural
revolution, when all Western music and instruments were banned, and with few role models to guide her, she embarked on a somewhat solitary and difficult path to master the instrument she loves.
Xuefei’s story is one of grit and determination and began when her mother wanted to keep the hyperactive seven-year-old occupied.
The accordion was too heavy for a small child and so Xuefei joined a guitar group run by her school teacher.
Now hailed as one of the world’s finest guitarists, Yang returns to Dublin this month to open a series of recitals and masterclasses.
These will explore the versatility of the guitar, both as a solo instrument and in collaboration, in this case with tenor, Robin Tritschler, and musicians from the Royal Irish Academy.
Yang first played in Ireland, as a dazzling newcomer, in 2005, at the Dublin International Guitar Festival. She has been a regular guest at
For someone who enjoys the conviviality of group music-making, her early days as a student were not easy.
“I felt isolated, as the first, and later one of the few, guitar students at the Central Conservatory of Music, in Beijing.
"I also felt inferior to the other students and frustrated, because lots of teachers and classmates didn’t know about my instrument and therefore looked down on it. That gave me the will-power to do well and demonstrate to them just what my instrument can do.”
That she did. Returning to Beijing, following her studies in London, she gave the first-ever classical guitar recitals in the National Centre of Performing Arts.
The scene in China has changed since.
“There are more great foreign artists going to China to perform; lots of Chinese students go abroad to study western music and more Chinese musicians are establishing themselves on international concert platforms.
"I had a big tour this year in China. I was struck by the number of new concert halls all over the country and the grandeur of them. I also noticed that a big portion of the audience for classical concerts is made up of young people.”
Although women feature among the top-rated string players, it is rare enough to find women among the elite of the classical guitar world. Yang makes little of being a trail-blazer in respect of her gender, suggesting only that the physical demands of travelling and of juggling family weigh less heavily on men.
Her recitals here will feature music from across the globe, including some from her own tradition. She explains that Chinese music is mandatory for students at the Beijing Conservatory.
“I always envied them for being able to play our own music. Performing internationally has given me more of an urge to present music from my own cultural background on my own chosen instrument.
"China has a long tradition of plucked instruments. During the years of creating a Chinese repertoire for guitar, I have also discovered even more facets of my guitar.”
“For me, guitar is the most intimate instrument: you have to hold your guitar so close to your body and limbs, and use the flesh on both hands to select notes and pluck the strings. The guitar feels like my forever partner.”
The Xuefei Yang guitar series begins at the National Concert Hall tonight.
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