Seeking out Others’ Culture: An Interview With Yang Xuefei

In a concert planned for September 2022, but postponed due to the Queen’s death, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has rescheduled their Image China: East Meets West concert to 13 April 2023. Leading Chinese composers Tan Dun and Chen Qigang are joined by Wang Zilin, Fu Renchang, Zhao Jiping and Zhou Tian. Leading Chinese performers Qian Junping (conductor), Ning Feng (violin) and Yang Xuefei (guitar) join the LPO for a concert that brings together the sounds of the East with Western solo instruments.

Image China: East Meets West Concert

Ning Feng, Qian Junping and Yang Xuefei © Cadogan Hall

We spoke with Yang Xuefei about the concert and what she saw as the real importance of the East/West collaboration. The two guitar concertos on the program, John Brunning’s Concerto Magna Carta, written for Ms. Yang, will focus on the last movement, III. Intense and energetic, and A Lovely Rose, arranged by Fu Renchang, brings a traditional song to the West.

Yang Xuefei and the Liverpool Philharmonic in the final movement of Brunning’s Concerto Magna Carta

A Lovely Rose, based on a folk song from Kazakhstan, was made into a guitar concerto by Fu Renchang.

Yang Xuefei and the National Center of Performing Arts (Beijing) Orchestra play A Lovely Rose

Ms. Yang composed the cadenzas for both concertos, a new experience for her. She’s been playing John Brunning’s music for over a decade and used that familiarity to help her craft the perfect cadenza that would both encapsulate the piece and show off her virtuosic skills.

As Ms. Yang has travelled around China giving concerts, she said that one of the most common questions has been why so little Chinese music has made it into the Western repertoire. She thought that one problem was that so much Chinese music wasn’t considered “classical” in the Western sense but is still closer to the Western concept of folk music. One difference Ms. Yang noted between music from the East and from the West was the emphasis in the East on musical line and in the West to formal structure. When these can be balanced, and as Chinese music matures, and as Western music finds the room to add other cultures’ music to the definition of ‘classical’, everyone will benefit.

Yang Xuefei

Yang Xuefei © Premiere Performances of Hong Kong

Coming from a country better known for its numerous violinists and pianists, guitarist Yang Xuefei, the first guitarist to graduate from the Beijing Conservatory before going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, breaks a new path for the performing arts. She noted that there were few guitar concertos in comparison with the huge number of violin concertos and piano concertos and sees the two works on the concert as significant contributions to the genre.

After this April concert, upcoming for Ms. Yang is a US tour (she just finished a tour of China) and, in May, the release of a new recording: X-Culture. X as in Cross Culture and X as in Xuefei. The album will bring together, among other mixes, an English composer working in a Chinese style and an Italian working in a Turkish style, or, in other words, a true Cross-Cultural recording.

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