Another person whom I have known for an age, Kenneth has been on the Hong Kong guitar scene for as long as I can remember. He is professor of guitar at Guangzhou Conservatoire and also a stand up comedian (are they the same?).
He is also an avid traveller in China and seems to know much of what goes on there.
This is an interview I held with him in one of the many coffee shops we frequent in Hong Kong, where he talks about China, teaching and life…
Find out more on his Facebook page
This is what he has to say about himself:
Kenneth Kwan is considered a comic’s comic’s comic, since nobody but comics may understand his jokes, and that’s when they’re drunk. He’s a musician and full-time womanizer, that is, he tries to help women become more woman by helping with chores behind the backs of their spouses, so that a woman can one day be womanizest (they don’t call him a comic’s comic’s comic for nothing).
Here’s what famous comedians have to say about Kenneth: Seinfeld: “Kenneth who?” Johnny Carson through a medium: “For someone who has absolutely no talents, Kenneth sure tries hard…even though nobody laughs, the world is better because of this!”
Su Meng is famously a Chinese guitarist who studies and plays in the USA, as a soloist, in a duo (the Beijing Duo) with her compatriot Wang Yameng (whom John Williams and I met on our Chinese tour in 1995) and in a trio with her teacher, Manuel Barrueco.
In 2002, Meng Su won first prize in the 5th Vienna International Guitar Competition.
in 2005, she garnered first prize in the 48th Tokyo International Guitar Competition.
In 2006, she was the winner of the first Parkening Young Guitarist Competition.
in 2006, she was the winner of the first Iserlohn Guitarist Competition.
in 2014, Meng Su received the Maryland State Art Council’s Individual Artist Award in Classical Solo Performance!
in 2015, she was the winner of the fourth Parkening Guitar Competition.
I was lucky enough to catch her on my latest visit to Hong Kong just after she had won the prestigious Parkening Competition for the second time (the first time was as a junior) and we managed to have a brief conversation about practice, competitions and living in the USA.
There interview took place in the studio of my old friend Wong Yik Hung.
What job do you do after graduating in classical guitar?
When I first visited Chengdu two years ago, I was surprised that the professor at the conservatory, Xu Bao also ran a music shop.
I learned that this was a place his more advanced students could teach and it was a general meeting place for the increasing number of students he had.
There were also guitars for sale.
On this present visit, he had just opened a new shop, a hundred yards down from the previous one, but I also discovered that there were another two shops in other areas of Chengdu.
They all sold relatively expensive guitars from Altamira, Martinez and Milestone.
Overall, there were around 300 students and each shop was managed and part owned by one of Xu Bao’s students.
Intrigued, I wanted to find out why there was such a demand for guitar studios, their function in the life of students who have finished their studies and how Xu Bao manages to sell higher quality and more expensive guitars to his students.
The studio/shops themselves were also an interesting design, incorporating lots of open space and making use of all the space that was available.
In the following interview, I was ably assisted by one of Xu Bao’s former students, Wenjun Qi, who is now studying with Bill Kanengiser in Los Angeles.
When I was in Hong Kong in October, I had the chance to interview Hanson Yao, an unfamiliar name to many, but a highly successful guitar maker and manufacturer. His company, which he started with his wife Jenny in Guangzhou, is Altamira Guitars, which sponsors many guitar events both in China and the west.
I ask him how he started and how the company has grown over the last seven years to producing 28,000 guitars a year with 120 workers, all of whom have been personally trained by Hanson at the factory in Guangzhou.
His recent venture has been the opening of a guitar shop containing his workshop in Hong Kong, which is already becoming a centre for Hong Kong guitar activities (during the interview, David Russell was giving a masterclass in the shop).
As well as guitars, the shop also sells violins, and Altamira will be sponsoring CD recordings for Naxos of prizewinning guitarists in many of its competitions throughout China.
I was lucky enough to produce just such a recording with the 14 year old prodigy Kuang Junhong which is to be released in December, and the hope is that there will be many more.
This enthusiasm for the guitar and hard work to get it established commercially in China is an undertaking which many of us could learn from – here’s to Hanson and Jenny’s continuing success.
This piece is one of a set of three Chinese pieces which the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet asked me to write on hearing the news that they were to visit China in 2008.
“Spring Snow” is a traditional pipa solo (the pipa is a plucked instrument which ended up in China, having begun its journey in the Middle East) from the 14th century and is almost monothematic in structure, with an obsessive four bar riff which branches out in many directions later on in the piece.
I have turned it into a chamber work by adding several sections and elongating others as well as introducing a percussive element which is implied in the original. The work requires extensive use of pipa techniques such as tremolo, crossed string percussive effects and heavy string bending.
The first performance of this piece was dedicated to Prof Chen Zhi of Central Conservatoire, Beijing.
LAGQ have since performed it many times as part of their “World set” this season.
Bill Kanengiser has also arranged some of this on solo guitar.
Many thanks to Alberto Cuellar, whom I met in Shanghai – a Flamenco guitarist and cool guy who also runs a website in Chinese dedicated to the guitar. This is slightly strange, my interview in English, translated into Chinese answered in Chinese, but with Chinese subtitles!
A personal take on this amazing event which had 450 contestants and 120 jury, and concerts and clsasses by Aniello Desiderio, Eliot Fisk, the Amadeus Duo, Emma Rush, Eva Beneke, Kuang Junhong, Beijing Quartet, etc and yours truly with a movement from
“China Sings!” for guitar solo and Guitar orchestra
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Scientists studying the Chinese mindfulness meditation known as integrative body-mind training (IBMT) say they’ve confirmed and expanded their findings on changes in structural efficiency of white matter in the brain that can be related to positive behavioral changes in subjects practicing the technique regularly for a month.
So this might be a good way to reprogram me those bad habits and possibly even Focal Dystonia, as it seems that real physical changes happen in the brain’s white matter.
As you can see from this brief explanation of IBMT, there is much overlap with Body Mapping.
There are measurable increases in axon density and myelin formation after 11 weeks of meditation. Neural plasticity change is the key here. It is a term that refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury. So the brain is no longer seen as a static object.
While in Chengdu this time, I managed to grab a quick interview with guitar professor, Xu Bao and asked him about his teaching at Sichuan Conservatoire, the repertoire he uses, the role of a teacher, sponsors and Kuang Junhong.
Having spent some time with child prodigy guitarists in China, the following article in the Spectatorstruck a resonant chord with me – probably putting a strain on my own sense of loyalty as well as East-West relationships! NYGE is also no stranger to the Yehudi Menuhin School (which has a similar background ethos to the Menuhin Test). As well as using the school for our courses and concerts, we have also had talented musicians from its students.
‘The truth is,’ says Gordon Back (the legendary accompanist for Yehudi Menuhin) , lowering his voice, ‘that if the violin finalists from the BBC Young Musician of the Year were to enter the Menuhin Competition, they wouldn’t make it to the first round.’ Not through the first round, note, but to the first round: they wouldn’t be good enough to compete.
Back is artistic director of the Menuhin, held every two years in a different country. In effect, it’s a search for the next Yehudi Menuhin, who recorded the Elgar concerto with the composer at the age of 15.
Contentious words and I often wonder about why Eastern musicians have taken so readily to Western classical music. It isn’t a question of lack of cultural background either.