Altamira Shanghai Guitar Festival

Altamira posterA 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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Chengdu Views

It was back to Chengdu last month to teach some of Professor Xu Bao’s students. This was a special trip because I was also the CD producer for Kuang Junhong’s first CD (at the age of 14). He really is something, and I hope you will enjoy the CD when it is released by Naxos.
There is  a youthful optimism about his playing, but there is also the odd touch of masterful genius which comes through. Needless to say, his technique is flawless.
As he is very dedicated, I am sure he will mature into a wonderful musician.
His teacher says that to play an instrument well, you have to be first and foremost a good human being, with heart. (The other thing he says is that his students should have experience with other teachers and to this end he has invited many teachers from the West at his own expense, so that his students can absorb as many influences as they can).
It was very cold  in the Main Concert Hall of Sichuan Conservatory, which was having a lift shaft installed during the day (and there are also 900 practice rooms all around making a  Babelicious cacophony), so we had to record until late at night. It amazed me how many people were out on the street still eating at 4.00 am!
Junhong was the ideal person to record – he was always on the ball musically, and could intelligently work out edit points where necessary. There were a few pieces which were recorded as whole takes, and he can instantly absorb a musical or technical nuance.
During the day, we had lessons on the pieces, including his (by now famous) Chaconne by Bach. There was also Tedesco, Granados, Albeniz, Legnani and Mertz.

Junhong’s Chaconne at Iserlohn International Festival

What was unusual about the evenings was that I also recorded another guitarist consecutively – Chengbin from Shanghai, who has not made a CD before although he is quite a bit older than Junhong. His background is in Chinese Opera and he is a very instinctive and lively player. His CD was entirely of Brouwer, made for the sponsor of the recordings, Altamira.
Both players used Altamira guitars exclusively for their CDs.

Xu Bao and Chengbin outside the shop

Lu, GG, Junhong in the studio

Lu, GG, Junhong in the studio

We managed to finish the two CDs – done, dusted and edited in five days, with discussions and lessons on the pieces during the day as well as lessons for another 10 or so students.
So no time to see the pandas on this occasion, then!
Luckily we still had time to eat, although breakfast was a bit hazy after finishing regularly at 4.00-5.00am.

None of this would have been possible if I had not had a fine recording engineer with musical (and English) knowledge, who was so easy to work with it seemed that I was editing the CD directly.
His name is Lü Xin Long and it is worth keeping an eye out for his name, as he seems to be doing a lot of work at the moment in conjunction with the Chengdu YunTian Culture Communication Co.Ltd. On the final edit for Chengbin, he stayed up all night to master the CD so i could take it to Hanson Yao of Altamira when I went to Hong Kong the next morning.

Junhong, Lu Xin Long and Xu Bao

I also met another Chengdu kid to look out for – 11 year old Huang Yuexuan, who is extremely studious and serious about the guitar and also a bit of a laugh. His daily fare seems to be Villa Lobos Etudes 1 and 2, Bach Lute Suite 4 and Barrios Sueno en La Floresta. I would say he probably should get out more, but he does sometimes have to practise outside Xu Bao’s shop, which is in a leafy boulevard lined with instrument sellers and (for some unknown reason) hairdressers.

Xu Bao’s 200 or so students are divided between him and 4 or 5 other teachers, all ex students of his and it is all very hierarchical, but relaxed. We drank a lot of tea outside, mainly at dusk. Everyone was very respectful, hospitable and hard working. I felt very well looked after.

Huang YueXuan in the middle

Huang YueXuan doing a bit of casual practice in the lunch hour

Villa Lobos Etude 2 with a new fingering

You can listen to the interview I managed to snatch with Xu Bao during lunch just before leaving for the airport.
The next couple of days were spent in Hong Kong with Hanson Yao in his new guitar shop, with my friend and writer Jane Ram, and with my sister in law visiting from California and my 92 year old mother, but that is another story.

I had a wonderful time despite hard work and lack of sleep. Everyone was hospitable in a relaxed and human way. and I hope to return to Chengdu soon. It was great fun. Thank you all, especially Xu Bao, Hanson, Yang Yang, Zhu Re and of course the two artists, Junhong and Chengbin.
Maybe next time, I will get to see some pandas!

Bow 1 IMG_3162

Chengdu photo album
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The economics of classical music and the Spanish guitar

From the Philippines (land of my forbears) – plus news about Berta Rojas‘ project there.

The propensity for classical music might be genetic, or the taste might be acquired, or most likely both. What is indisputable is that, on the demand side, the market has been on the decline worldwide for decades, even before the preponderance of digital media and internet piracy and sharing.

If classical music in general is on the wane, the fate of the Spanish or classical guitar suffers a worse fate. The classical guitar has had a long battle to be a solo or even a chamber concert instrument.

In the Philippines, there was a major effort to promote classical guitar music since the early 2000s by visionaries Tonyboy Cojuangco and Greg Yu.

Read more

More on the guitar in the Philippines

Selected Filipino Guitar music posted by Raffy Lata

Some samples of Harana (courtship songs) arranged for guitar

Leo Brouwer: live at 1979 Eztergom Festival playing Weiss, Joplin, Brouwer, & Falla

selftaughtgirl’s recording of a radio broadcast from the 1980’s

Weiss: Sarabande
Joplin: Elite Syncopation
Brouwer: Danza Altiplana, Cradle Song
Joplin: The Entertainer
Falla: Danza del Corregidor
Brouwer: Study #6

It was around this time I went to the ORTF summer school in Arles instigated by Robert Vidal – heady days. We studied modern music (aleatoric and otherwise) with Leo in the morning and Baroque ornamentation with him in the afternoon. We were also part of his ensemble playing a piece by Juan Blanco. Other attendees included Ichiro Suzuki, a very young Costas Cotsiolis, Forbes Henderson, John Taylor, Raymond Couste, Alison Bendy, Steve Wingfield, Ben Verderey and many more.
At Arles I first heard the music of Bussotti, Mestres Quadreny, Ohana and of course, Brouwer, whose Canticum, Espiral Eterna and Parabola I played regularly in the late 70s and 80s. I wonder if there are some photos of the occasion. In the following year, I travelled again to Arles with John Williams.

Leo Brouwer, as he was when we first met

Brouwer at West Dean in 2009
Brouwer 2009

A new (European) small step toward getting instruments on planes

Slipped Disc reports:

A new small step to getting instruments on planes

February 10, 2014 by  

The European Parliament has voted to oblige airlines to allow musicians to carry small instruments on board and larger ones in the hold. The proposal has to be approved by the European Council before it acquires force of law, and I cannot see budget airlines like Ryanair allowing it to happen without hidden penalties. Or stop bucket shops like the Iberia subsidiary from forcing the Voce quartet  to remove instruments from their cases.

Full article here


The elephant in the room


The ever watchful Norman Lebrecht (Follow him on FB:Facebook and on Twitter@NLebrecht) of Slipped Disc has found more bad news for musicians wanting to enter the USA:

A federal regulation on ivory imports came into force on February 25. It applies to ivory used in musical instruments.
Worked African elephant ivory imported as part of a musical instrument will continue to be allowed provided the worked ivory was legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976; the worked elephant ivory has not subsequently been transferred from one person to another person in pursuit of financial gain or profit; and the item is accompanied by a valid CITES musical instrument passport.
What this means is that every string player who has a small piece of ivory in their bow will need to get a passport for each instrument and bow. Every time you buy a new bow, you will need to register it and pay a $75 fee.

Read more…

There’s a Menuhin Test?!

Having spent some time with child prodigy guitarists in China, the following article in the Spectator struck 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.

Here’s an interesting story…
and here’s an article on (mis)appropriation to stir your little grey cells this Sunday morning.

In case you want to know more – Almost great news about taking your guitar aboard a plane!

From Joan Lowy via Classical Guitar Review.

As of February 14 2014, musicians have scored a major triumph In the ongoing battle to get musical instruments aboard flights. All too often we have heard stories of woe; snapped necks, broken bows, and demolished bridges. Now with a rather definitive law passed by US congress musicains are able to fly with more confidence.

As it pertains to guitarists, the instrument will be allowed on board without any extra charge if it can be stowed safely onboard the aircraft. It will still be in your best interest to get on the aircraft early, as those overheads fill up quickly these days, however your odds of a safe flight for your precious has just been dramatically increased!

PDF of the new FAA law (USA only)

‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—
carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger
to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the
aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition
to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable
carry-on baggage, if—
‘‘(A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable
baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a
passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for
carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the
Administrator; and
‘‘(B) there is space for such stowage at the time the
passenger boards the aircraft.
carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger
to carry a musical instrument that is too large to meet the
requirements of paragraph (1) in the aircraft cabin, without
charging the passenger a fee in addition to the cost of the
additional ticket described in subparagraph (E), if—
‘‘(A) the instrument is contained in a case or covered
so as to avoid injury to other passengers;
‘‘(B) the weight of the instrument, including the case
or covering, does not exceed 165 pounds or the applicable
weight restrictions for the aircraft;
‘‘(C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with
the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo
established by the Administrator;
‘‘(D) neither the instrument nor the case contains any
object not otherwise permitted to be carried in an aircraft
cabin because of a law or regulation of the United States;
‘‘(E) the passenger wishing to carry the instrument
in the aircraft cabin has purchased an additional seat
to accommodate the instrument.
carrier shall transport as baggage a musical instrument that
is the property of a passenger traveling in air transportation
that may not be carried in the aircraft cabin if—
‘‘(A) the sum of the length, width, and height measured
in inches of the outside linear dimensions of the instrument
(including the case) does not exceed 150 inches or the
applicable size restrictions for the aircraft;
‘‘(B) the weight of the instrument does not exceed
165 pounds or the applicable weight restrictions for the
aircraft; and
‘‘(C) the instrument can be stowed in accordance with
the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo
established by the Administrator.
‘‘(b) REGULATIONS.—Not later than 2 years after the date of
enactment of this section, the Secretary shall issue final regulations
to carry out subsection (a).
‘‘(c) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The requirements of this section shall
become effective on the date of issuance of the final regulations
under subsection (b).’’.

However, also check this out

Touch Wood in a Japanese Forest with Bach

Go to the woods of Kyushu, Japan.

Engineer a massive  marimba to run down the slope of a forested hill. Take a wooden ball, place it at the top of said instrument, and push it. What do you get? Bach’s treatment of a traditional church hymn! Namely, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

and here is how it was done-

A spectacular feat of engineering and creativity. And just guess what inspired its making?

Some time ago, I had the idea of having a railing which you could run a stick along, which would play a tune in the same way, and the railing turned into a maze. (You would be able to find your way out by “playing” the tune. Managed to get the local council interested and even had a park lined up, but alas, the funding fell through!
This is just a lovely idea and brought to my attention by Eli Kassner – thanks Eli!

PS If your Japanese is up to it, here is a TED talk from the creator behind the project. Shake your mind!

More airline horror

From Norman Lebrecht’s great blog Slipped Disc

Chris Wilke

If it’s not the Customs, it’s the US airlines. This message was in from the Lute List:

Hello all,
Last night the soundboard of my 13-course lute was completely smashed after being valet-checked on a flight. (It just happened to be my birthday. Thanks Delta.)
Dr. Christopher Wilke D.M.A.
Lutenist, Guitarist and Composer

There is now an UPDATE, which is an even grimmer tale, here.