An article in the most recent Economist was subtitled “China’s newest export hit is classical music” with a lede about the China Philharmonic Orchestra on tour in New York.
Once, classical music generally travelled from the West to the rest. Now China is reversing the exchange, not merely performing Western classical music in China, but exporting it.
But China has been “exporting” individual performers of demonstrable world-class stature for quite some time: pianists Wang Yujia and Li Yundi and opera singers soprano He Hui and tenor Shi Yijie are just a few Chinese artists in demand worldwide. Hong Kong had the privilege to hear one of the others this weekend, classical guitarist Yang Xuefei, playing Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with the Hong Kong Philharmonic.
The highly-acclaimed Yang is well-known to those who pay attention to somewhat rarified world of classical guitar; less so, perhaps, to those who less well attuned. But whatever potential incongruity the uninitiated—which, I’m afraid to say, included me—may have perceived in a Chinese guitarist playing one of the iconic pieces of both the Spanish and guitar repertory, it surely vanished the second Yang’s fingers touched the strings. It was as if she became one with instrument. The performance was an extraordinary demonstration of how music can be both culturally specific yet universally eloquent.
Yang, alas, played only the one piece, plus two brief Brazilian encores (Yang’s new CD is “Colours of Brazil”). The remainder of the concert was George Gershwin—both an “American in Paris” and a suite based on “Porgy and Bess”—and Georges Bizet’s “Carmen Suite”, works which in this context seemed overshadowed by Rodrigo’s Concierto.