Interview by Fernando Bartolomé. July 2013. Festival de Guitarra de Córdoba
The Beijing Guitar Duo is destinated to be one of the greatest chamber groups of our time. I was pleasantly surprised by their two recordings and all these feelings were confirmed with the concert I had the opportunity to attend this summer. It was in Córdoba, Spain, in the Festival de la Guitarra de Córdoba.Their teacher and mentor, Manuel Barrueco, played with them in the concert and the duo was transformed in trio for the most part of it. He said about them: "Both Meng and Yameng are at the top of my list of guitarists I enjoy listening to. They are deeply musical and have technique to spare. They say beautiful things with their music and they are very dedicated to their art."
Meng Su and Yameng Wang don’t like to talk about politics or education but when it’s about music things go different. They’re very happy to be in Europe playing and talking about music. In these hard times for the music and the culture they are lucky to be supported by different people and associations like the USArtists International.
Meng Su (MS) and Yameng Wang (YW) talk for Modern Guitar Ensemble.
Was it the first time you played in Córdoba?
(MS) Yes, and we are pretty happy about the concert last night.
How did you feel playing with your teacher Manuel Barrueco?It’s an honor and a pleasure to work with him. He is very kind with us.
Do you feel a little bit in awe of the maestro?Always! (laughs) But we are pretty comfortable playing with him. As I said he is so kind and a great person to work with.
Did you have many rehearsals with him for the trio?I think twice a week for the last two weeks.
I ask that because you sounded very good together and I’ve see other groups playing together, with very good musicians, but not such good results together, and yesterday I felt you were very connected.That’s because we were scared. (laughs)
Let’s talk about classical music education in China. Is it similar to classical music education in Europe or America? The repertoire, the number of classes per week…Yes. I think it is very similar to the European or American conservatories. Nowadays there are more and more guitar students in China. Many students are studying guitar at a very early age, and we have a guitar-major program in 5 major conservatories, Beijing, Shanghai and all major cities, and it is a pretty good system now. We have elementary school for 5 years; 2 years of High school, then College and the Master. More than 10 years.
How many guitar classes per week did you have?
Once a week, but also we have ensemble classes. Also we had ear training classes, history, harmony…
In Spain, the guitar’s program includes a lot of European Renaissance and Baroque music written for other instruments different from the guitar, like the vihuela, lute, harpsichord, etc. Do you have Oriental music from these periods arranged for classical guitar? Do you play any of it?Yes, not so much music but we have some of them that are very famous.
When I was preparing the interview I read some things about China that scared me a little bit. For example, in Wikipedia: “The music in China is a state property in the same way as TV, mass-media and concert venues, controlled by the communist party”. Maybe it’s not true and this is not happening there and I would like to know your opinion about it.I think in the major conservatories there are a Party Departments. All the officials like directors, I think they are part of the communist party, part of them. But I felt free to compose, play… Sometimes you get a scholarship from the government to do competitions… But it doesn’t affect us in any of the performances, subjects; nothing like that.
When did you decide to go to the States?It was in 2004, when we met maestro Barrueco in Hong Kong.
How did he find out about you?I think he knew about Yameng first. She has a CD recording on the GHA label in Belgium, and Maestro Barrueco and his wife Asgerdur knew about it, and asked if Yameng would like to go abroad to study with him. Maestro Barrueco had a concert in Hong Kong a bit later and we arrange a trip to Hong Kong to play for him.
When people go to study with Barrueco most of them have already recorded cds, have won competitions, and have a good reputation. What things can you learn with Barrueco?
I think when we were there, there was already a lot of good players, like Łukasz Kuropaczewski from Poland.
Ana Vidovic stayed with him.Ana left when we were there. The students are from all over the world, it is a very international and diverse studio. We have a repertoire class every week, and we listen to high quality guitar players and other musicians, and learn a lot about different styles, different thinkings about music. We also have ensemble and chamber music with Maestro Barrueco. He encourages his students to listen to a lot of music, a lot of different musicians, and he allows for different styles in his classes. So it is a wonderful experience.
In some of your interviews I’ve read about that like to compose music and I’d like to know if you are going to perform it in public or whether you just do it for fun.
We arrange music. We are trying to arrange more Chinese music for 2 guitars because there’s quite a lot of good music for piano, Chinese music, so that fits 2 guitars perfectly. We try to include at this Chinese music in our concert’s programs. We find that the audience enjoys Chinese music.
In the 20th century, in much of the cases, there were separate paths for the composer and for the player, but we have several examples of very good guitar-composers like Dyens, Koshkin or Domeniconi. In some circles this meant that it went against the quality of the guitar repertoire. What do you think about that guitar-composer’s figure?
I don’t think in those boundaries. I think it’s even better when a composer knows how to play the guitar and how the guitar works.
(YW) Sergio Assad is a great example. I think the main point is still if this composer is good enough. It doesn’t matter if he plays guitar or not.
Maybe there are people who think more in terms of fingerings, guitar positions and things like that than in terms of music.
(MS) If the composer is thinking only in these terms of fingerings it’s not good enough.
In your second CD, Bach to Tan Dun, I really enjoyed a lot the Scarlatti, Bach, Granados and Tedesco but not so much Tan Dun’s “Eight Memories in Watercolor”. But when I heard it in the concert yesterday I was absolutely amazed: the variety of colours, the delicate dynamics, synchronization, musicality… It was probably the piece I enjoyed the most. Maybe it’s a personal opinion but there is certain type of music that loses quite a lot of its beauty when recorded.It makes sense because this music is a lot about imagination, different colors. It makes sense to play in life the whole thing, to see the bigger image. I agree with you. It sounds better when it’s life.
It’s about memories from home. Because this piece was written in the seventies when Tan Dun first went to Beijing to study in the Conservatoire, and he was homesick very much so he wrote these pieces, his first composition. It’s about his childhood memories. Four of the parts are Folk songs and the other four are his own compositions.
Another piece of music I enjoyed in the concert was the Diabelli Trio in F major, Op. 62. I’d never heard this piece, and the Diabelli everybody knows are the little studies, some chamber music with piano and guitar, and a sonata that Julian Bream adapted for guitar, in four movements. I didn’t expect this music by Diabelli, fresh, virtuoso… Had you heard to this piece before?I think there is another group playing it. But we have not heard about this piece before.
Do you know something about this piece? Was it written originally for three guitars?(Meng is not sure and she looks and asks Yameng if she knows something about it…)
I think it’s an arrangement. (Manuel Barrueco told me a few hours later that the music was originally written for three guitars: one with the melody and two with the accompaniment. So the thing was a redistribution of the parts with a very high tempo feeling)
How did Manuel Barrueco convince you to play as a duo?
We were used to play like well two duo pieces in our solo concerts. But now it is the opposite: we play some solo pieces in our duet concerts. He had heard us play in duo because sometimes we went to a lesson with duo pieces. And he said, "you know, you can consider a duo for career". And so we did it! As a duo, we received the "Solomon H. Snyder Award" and the prize was a New York premiere at Carnegie Hall. After that concert, we were signed by a major New York management company and so our career as a duo got to a good start.
What advice can you give to people who want to make a career as a duo?
Always to play good music.
Do you choose your repertoire or do other people make suggestions?Yes, Maestro Barrueco sometimes suggest us a lot of ideas but we usually choose. On the next CD it will be all “encore pieces”, short but good pieces.
How often do you have rehearsals?It’s about twice a week, for 2 or 3 hours.
How do you organize a rehearsal?Because we are learning new pieces for the recording we would learn all by heart, first, and then get together to rehearse. Slowly first, and then speed up.
When each of you is preparing the music on your own, do you then go to the rehearsal with some preconceived ideas about the music?We know each other for a long time, maybe 20 years. A lot of ideas are very connected and very alike, but we do sometimes have different opinions.
Do you fight a lot over musical ideas?A little bit.
Maybe it’s not so important to fight over minor things because feelings are changing constantly. Do your thoughts about music change over time?Yes. Very often. We used to fight a lot but now it’s going better.
What does it mean for a musician to play in chamber groups?It’s an invaluable experience. I was thinking the other day, because I am a duo player, I realized how important the accompaniment is; how the line goes; how to listen to each other. It’s very important to listen to our fellow player… You can do a lot in dynamics, music ideas…
Do you think it should be included in musical education from the very beginning?
Yes! Yes! At Peabody we did a lot of chamber and ensemble music
What are your plans for the trio?I think the trio recording will be out on the next year. But also we are preparing a duo recording and Sue a solo recording. So we’ll have more concerts, more repertoire…
Do you have time for hobbies?(MS) I like watching soccer. My favorite team is Spain!
(YW) I like the food.
Thank you so much