A very slender, young, elegant Chinese woman glided on stage carrying her guitar and sat down on a low stool. Four spot lights trained on her as she began to play. The music was quiet and her fingers seem to flutter over the strings, hardly seeming to touch them and yet there was strength in her hands as she played the guitar with great feeling and understanding.
Xuefei Yang was born in Beijing. She was the first guitarist in China to enter a music school and the first Chinese student to study in the West, winning a post-graduate scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London. She is now based in the UK and has performed in over 40 countries in recitals and with leading orchestras.
This year, the Edinburgh Festival’s focus is on drama, music and art from Asia and her programme mirrored this, having Oriental music but also including music composed for the Spanish guitar.
I have heard Chinese music before and found it very different to what I was used to, but was pleased to find this music very ‘listenable’. She had arranged some of the music herself. One piece, called ‘The Chinese Garden’, based on Chinese folksongs, had been commissioned by her and composed by Stephen Goss, who was in the audience and was invited on stage to take a bow. She also played a piece written for Julian Bream by a Japanese composer. I wasn’t so keen on that, it reminded me of modern jazz which I don’t really understand.
The Oriental pieces seemed almost delicate in comparison to the rhythm and beat of the music of Albeniz, Rodrigo and De Falla written for the Spanish guitar, which she played with great strength and verve and passion. She played music by Rodrigo at her Spanish debut at the age of 14 and was unaware that he was in the audience.
The recital ended with a virtuoso performance of ‘Variations on the Carnival of Venice’ to enthusiastic applause. After several returns to the stage to take bows she played a couple of encores – the tango ‘La Campercita’ and another of her favourite Spanish melodies.
The music was lovely and I could hear it without any bother, but although she spoke perfect English, I had a problem hearing her when she spoke in between playing as there was no microphone. However, that did not spoil my pleasure in the music. It was a bit of a shock after such a warm, relaxing feeling to go out into the rain and noise of Edinburgh