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.
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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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
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!
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.
Two young classical guitar prodigies, Junhong Kuang and Celil Refik Kaya, are set to perform at the Carnegie Hall.
The concert will open on Thursday, October 17, featuring two performers – Junhong Kuang and Celil Refik Kaya. The event will be Mr. Kaya’s Carnegie Hall debut, he is also set to play a new piece written for him by famed Argentinian classical guitarist and composer, Jorge Morel. The event will also add “playing at the Carnegie Hall” to the young Junhong Kuang’s experience.
It was an exciting occasion – the world premier of the first two movements of my concerto “China Sings” – Kuang Junhong played with great delicacy and fiery virtuosity, and the orchestra was superb. Watch this space for all three movements with symphony orchestra.
If you haven’t come across him yet, Kuang Junhong is a 13 year old genius who plays the guitar with wonderful musicality. His teacher Xu Bao invited me over to Chengdu (in Sichuan Province) last month and I had the pleasure of teaching Junhong and many others of his talented pupils (as well as eating some fine Sichuan food – mostly mouth-numbingly spicy). There will be a few other young guitarists from this part of China you will eventually hear about. Continue reading →