The voice that carried guitar over the barriers of Cultural Revolution
Born in Beijing following the Cultural Revolution—during which Western music and instruments were banned—Xuefei Yang grew up to be an unlikely guitar hero.
Credited as the first ever guitarist in China to enter a music school, she has become the first Chinese guitarist to launch an international career.
Xuefei’s 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."
She explains her motivation to study:
"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, having finished her studies in London, she gave the first ever classical guitar recitals in the National Centre of Performing Arts.
Xuefei Yang is continually experimenting with her own guitar repertoire. Paying homage to her roots and nationality, she has a particular interest in interweaving Chinese music into her set, whilst making significant contributions to the guitar concerto repertoire:
"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.”
Listen to the traditional Chinese piece Yi dance arranged by Xuefei Yang:
Xuefei noted that Chinese scene has changed since then:
“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."
It seems that she is quite happy with the musical progress of her country:
"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.”
Xuefei creates her own arrangements of classical pieces and collaborates with composers for exciting new works for the instrument, most of which have found their way onto the concert stage and into the recording studio.
Watch Xuefei Yang in a studio session, performing her own arrangement of Bach's Orchestral Suite in D Major for a seven-string guitar:
As many musicians, Xuefei has a special attitude towards her instrument:
“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.”