“We are very sad to hear that our friend, guitarist John Holmquist, has passed away. Our heart goes out to his wife and family. Here I am playing this beautiful Tombeau that Gerald Garcia wrote in his memory.”
“Nos entristece saber que nuestro amigo, el guitarrista John Holmquist, nos ha dejado. Nuestro cariño para su mujer e hijos. Aquí toco este precioso Tombeau que Gerald Garcia escribió en su memoria.”
Changsha Guitar Festival: what is it and what does it mean?
At first this seems like an easy question: various guitar competitions with national and international guests giving concerts, lectures and master classes for the duration of about a week in the city of Changsha, southern China.
On a certain level this is true, but the more I think about it the more I realize it is so much more and that it means very different things to different people.
To start with something that I know a bit about, I can say what the festival means to me. I first went to Changsha in 2015 to help write articles on the event.
I was impressed with the atmosphere, which felt like a cross between a symposium, a set of music concerts, a party and a ‘Chinese style fun for all the family’ competition.
There were many fascinating and well known guests there that year, but I was somewhat in awe of one of them in particular – Roland Dyens.
With Roland being fresh off the plane, and looking quite grumpy, I didn’t quite know how to approach him to ask him questions for the articles I was writing. When I saw him in the breakfast the next day he was working on his laptop and so I sat with some of the other guests. He then came over and showed us what he had been ‘working on’. One of his friends had copied a picture of him having just got off the airplane in Changsha and pasted it next to a scruffy fugitive off some international wanted list! We all laughed hysterically. (In all honesty there was quite a bit of similarity between the two photos). At that point I realized that he was a wonderful talented human being, but with his own unique skills, quirks and charm. In many ways Changsha guitar festival is like this for me; it is a place where these great artists that we hold in high esteem can meet and be part of a grassroots development of the guitar in fun friendly way, with its own unique characteristics.
Over the years, I have got to know the organizers, helpers and regular attendees at the festival and I am aware of the massive investment of time, money and energy that goes in to this event.
For them the meaning of the Changsha Guitar Festival is probably something much more personal with the main organizers Mr Li and Xuefei Yang working around the clock to make the festival each year better than the last. The logistics and organizational skills required for arranging such an event are vast, with guests, competitors and sponsors all needing to be taken care of. Both organizers put a lot of skin in the game and they always go the extra mile, with Mr. Li’s team doing anything they can to make people welcome, such as helping one of the international competitors to find an artificial nail at 10 o’clock at night.
(Xuefei Video: A Moonlit Evening on the Spring River for Classical Guitar and Chinese Flute)
As for the competitors and guests (Gerald has visited three times), they all have their own individual reasons for visiting. Although I do not know these reasons, I see people leaving the festival with faces that show they have had a wonderful time there.
It was a happy coincidence that I bumped into Will McNicol in Chengdu when I was on my way to my Mum’s 96th birthday.
I was met at the airport by Will, Xu Bao and Joshua Jiao and rushed to a restaurant in an emergency food dash.
Will had been touring China with his own super charged yet gentle brand of acoustic music which he played on a new crossover guitar made by Martinez. This is a nylon strung instrument with a longer neck (the neck meets the body at the 14th fret) and a slightly shallower body. Will had just played in Chengdu the night before, following on from ten or more concerts throughout China, ably assisted by Josh.
After a wonderful lunch which culminated in the smashing of a wine glass while I was on a swing (don’t ask) we were joined by Alex Wang, CEO of Martinez. The following, slightly inebriated interview(s) discussing the future of the guitar in China, connections, Will’s music, life, the universe etc followed without further breakages .
A clip from Will’s latest recording
Will was voted Acoustic Guitarist of the Year by Guitarist Magazine in 2011.
Here is his piece “The Wakeup”.
The HK Classical Guitar Society ca.1981 – Mr.Ho is second from the left in the front row. Also present are Pepe Yeung, Simon Cheong Hing Liu, Edgar Chu, Stephen Kai Leung Chau, Ricky, Wilson, Summer Chan,Ng Ho Yi, Mr.Wong, Ngai Kai Tai Thanks to Bunny Leung for the photo
Hong Kong 1979-85– a group of enthusiastic amateur guitarists which met in a small shop in the Jordan area of Kowloon showed up at my first recital in my home town. They seemed well organised, and were hungry for any information and music that was out there. It appeared that the shop belonged to a Mr.Ho, who allowed local teachers to use it and have their regular meetings. This was the Hong Kong Classical Guitar Society.
They were very kind and also friendly towards each other and towards visitors, so I made a point of keeping in contact on my regular visits and annual concerts. I discovered that there was also a connection with China – the society’s newsletter was sent regularly to contacts and teachers in disparate provinces.
The big name in China was Professor Chen Zhi, who had a reputation for producing wonderful players, but the growing number of classical guitarists in China wanted information – sheet music, recordings, videos…
The HK Classical Guitar Society grew into the HKGIA (Hong Kong Guitar Information Alliance) which involved the burgeoning number of guitar teachers in Hong Kong, expanding the reach of the society to include all types of guitar interest – flamenco, baroque, nail players and no-nail players.
It was in this group that I first became aware of Kenneth Kwan, a student of the erudite Richard Szeto. It was also this group which made the links with Professor Chen Zhi that enabled John Williams and me to visit Hong Kong and China in 1995.
Prior to this visit Professor Chen Zhi organised The First China Artistic Guitar Festival at Zhuhai, China in 1987.
It was a very important event and has had a big influence on the development of the classical guitar in China.
Before this event Professor Chen Zhi had visited the HK Classical Guitar Society (and Mr. Ho) to invite local players to perform in the Festival.
Some HK players performed in the China Artistic Guitar Festival 1987.
None of us realised then what an explosion of classical guitar activity in China would result from John Williams’ and my visit in 1995 which was promoted by the British Council.
Most of today’s guitar professors in Chinese conservatoires were present at the concerts and masterclasses which John Williams and I gave.
Professor Chen Zhi has been instrumental in bringing his students to the west, and some of his ex students (and their students in turn) are now bright stars in the universe of the guitar.
I like to think that it all started in that small shop in Jordan, with a group of likeminded enthusiasts back in the early 80s. It should come as no surprise that we have kept in touch even though we have gone our separate ways.
In a world where thinly disguised self promotion seems to be the norm, it is refreshing to come across true enthusiasts who modestly make things happen which have far reaching implications.
Here is a meeting in a Hong Kong in a coffee shop – a meeting of old friends who hadn’t met up for almost forty years and still don’t know how to stop being enthusiastic!
Sean came to the shed to play a preview of his Aldeburgh concert and CD recording last year. His programme was interesting as usual, starting with Forlorn Hope by Dowland and ending with Nocturnal by Britten, with Malcolm Arnold and Walton in between.
I had the chance to talk to him about his work as a New Generation artist with BBC radio 3, his attitude to competitions, and his idea of a good programme .
This was a welcome opportunity to catch up with Sean, whom I have known since he was a 13 year old in NYGE.
I was also present at his outstanding performance in London when he won the Royal Overseas League competition, ahead of an oboist, a singer and a pianist.
Here is a link to his Youtube channel where he shares his often individual view on the world and some fine performances, and here is our interview in the shed.
17-year-old Junhong Kuang is widely recognized as one of the greatest young talents in the world today. He began receiving professional training in classical guitar at the age of nine with Professor Xu Bao in Chengdu, China. Only two years later, he won first prize in the Thailand International Guitar Competition, and soon after he was awarded a prize for the best interpretation of a Spanish piece and also for his interpretations of Bach’s “Chaconne” at the Iserlohn International Guitar Competition in Germany.
I met Junhong again last May in Baltimore, where he is studying with Manuel Barrueco.
Before that, I had been teaching him on and off, and recorded his CD for Naxos when he was 13 years old.
This is the interview we did
I worked with him on his ARD programme in Iserlohn under the auspices of his former teacher, professor Xu Bao
Here is his ARD semi final, playing Tedesco’s Quintet
Andrey Lebedev is an Australian classical guitarist, collaborator, and creator based in London.
His insatiable curiosity and versatility have resulted in the creation of an array of new music and collaborative projects. He has premiered solo guitar works by Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Leo Brouwer, and chamber music by Brett Dean and Peter Sculthorpe, amongst others. During his studies at the Royal Academy of Music he collaborated with guitarist Julian Bream, and with guitarist John Williams, on recital projects exploring contemporary solo guitar music, and Australian chamber music. Performances at the Hong Kong Altamira International Guitar Symposium (China), Cultura Artistica Serie de Violao (Brazil), Dark Mofo Festival (Australia), and Buxton International Festival (UK), are a testament to his versatility as an artist of exceptional calibre.
I had the good fortune to meet Andrey in Oxford and talk just before his shed gig, a few days before the ARD competition.
Here is the interview
and here is his playing of Bozza’s Concertino da Camera in the semi finals of the ARD competition
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!”