Young prodigy finds magic in guitar strings

Updated: 2013-03-18 05:43

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

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Young prodigy finds magic in guitar strings

Wang Yameng is one of the most successful Chinese classical guitarists in the world. Provided to China Daily

Before Wang Yameng was born, her father was not buying clothes and toys for his unborn child. He was preparing books on how to play the guitar and planning courses for his baby. By the time she was 5, Wang was given a ukulele by her father and was studying with her father's guitar teacher.

Wang's childhood hobby has turned out to be her full-time career. Today, Wang, 32, is one of the most successful Chinese classical guitarists, and she gives recitals all across the United States and Europe both as a soloist and as part of chamber music ensembles.

She performed more than 20 times in 2012 at venues including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Spivey Hall in the US city of Atlanta.

Earlier this month, she performed in New York City with her partner Su Meng, another young Chinese classical guitarist, with whom they formed Beijing Guitar Duo three years ago.

Cuban guitar virtuoso Manuel Barrueco, who taught the duo since they first came to the US in 2006, praised their performance. One highlight: Eight Memories in Watercolor, written by Tan Dun.

Academy Award-winning composer Tan, who heard the duo's arrangement on one of their CDs, says that he was surprised that Chinese songs and the guitar could be a perfect match.

For Wang, the guitar comes to life in a blend of Chinese and Western music elements.

Barrueco also composed a song, a new transcription of composer Chen Yi's China West, which was originally written for two pianos. It will be recorded on Beijing Guitar Duo's third album, which they plan to release this year.

"My father kept telling me that the sound of guitar is the most beautiful sound in the world," recalls Wang, who came from Qingdao, Shandong province.

A turning point for her came one day in March 1992. Her father took her to Beijing Concert Hall, to see a guitar performance by 15-year-old Yang Xuefei and 14-year-old Bai Pu - a magical program of Bach, Paganini and Tarrega.

Afterward, the little girl told her father: "I want to be like them, playing such beautiful sounds."

Her father took Wang to meet Chen Zhi, teacher of Yang and Bai, who is a professor of classical guitar at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and founder of China's first school of classical guitar in 1982.

That led to an intense period of training.

Born to an affluent family in Shanghai, Chen once studied with two Russian music teachers to play piano and violin. One of the teachers could play the Russian seven-string guitar. Chen, once introduced to the instrument, began to study it by himself.

The now 77-year-old Chen says he was impressed by the teachers' pursuit of expression and complete technique, which he uses in his own teaching.

Two years after Wang began to study with him, she became the youngest winner of the Tokyo International Guitar Competition at the age of 12.

At 14, she was invited by Radio France to perform at the Paris International Guitar Art Week. Classical Guitar magazine noted that she already played like a seasoned professional.

Her first album, Caprice, was recorded by GHA, the renowned guitar label based in Belgium , when she was 16.

Chen points out that tens of thousands of young people in China are studying guitar but only a few could take the instrument as a lifelong career.

After graduating from the Central Conservatory of Music of China in 2006, Wang enrolled in the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland. She finished her Master of Music degree in 2008 and is currently in the Graduate Performance Diploma program.

She also made her New York debut at Carnegie Hall with fellow Chinese guitarist Su Meng in 2010, which won critical acclaim.

Their first duo album, Maracaipe, received a Latin Grammy nomination for the featured work Maracaipe, written by composer Sergio Assad.

"Western audiences are not so concerned any more with where the artist is from," says Asgerdur Sigurdardottir, the owner and producer of Tonar Music record company, who recorded two CDs for Beijing Guitar Duo.

"It is more important the quality of the art they produce. They have so many beautiful things to say with their music."

(China Daily 03/18/2013 page20)