Another person whom I have known for age, Kenneth has been on the Hong Kong guitar scene for as long as I can remember. He is professor of guitar at Guangzhou Conservatoire and also a stand up comedian (are they the same?).
He is also an avid traveller in China and seems to know much of what goes on there.
This is an interview I held with him in one of the many coffee shops we frequent in Hong Kong, where he talks about China, teaching and life…
Find out more on his Facebook page
This is what he has to say about himself:
Kenneth Kwan is considered a comic’s comic’s comic, since nobody but comics may understand his jokes, and that’s when they’re drunk. He’s a musician and full-time womanizer, that is, he tries to help women become more woman by helping with chores behind the backs of their spouses, so that a woman can one day be womanizest (they don’t call him a comic’s comic’s comic for nothing).
Here’s what famous comedians have to say about Kenneth: Seinfeld: “Kenneth who?” Johnny Carson through a medium: “For someone who has absolutely no talents, Kenneth sure tries hard…even though nobody laughs, the world is better because of this!”
We first met at the GB Summer school (which Gilbert Biberian and I directed many years ago) and Stephen regularly keeps cropping up at guitar festivals.
He is a member of the Tantalus Guitar Quartet who recorded my “Blue Nose Ballads” on Debut.
At GFA 2013 Louisville, he and the Tantalus Quartet gave the first performance of my piece “Spectral Dreams” for Guitar Quartet and Guitar Orchestra. Steve was instrumental in getting me over to the USA and also provided some very fine home-brewed beer.
So it was a pleasure to have him come over to the shed and also talk about his latest projects over a pint, after a rather distressing encounter with a less than sympathetic bus driver who refused to let his luggage off (it was destined for the wrong stop only half a mile away!).
Stephen has performed as soloist on notable concert series including the International Guitar Institute, Tennessee State University, Valdosta State University, and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Following a concert at Carnegie Hall in 2010, the New York Times noted Stephen’s “unfazed” performance in a challenging program of 20th and 21st century works with the Grawemeyer Players. As recipient of the prestigious Theodore Presser Award, he recorded the complete guitar chamber works by Franz Schubert, which are available internationally in new critical editions through Chanterelle Verlag.
He enjoys a vibrant teaching career as Assistant Professor of Guitar at the University of Louisville, directing classical guitar studies and teaching music theory courses. A strong proponent for public music education, Stephen is Director of the University of Louisville’s Community Music Program where he fosters the development of diverse educational programs in music, instituting unique learning opportunities for music enthusiasts from all areas of society.
In addition to his performing and teaching engagements, Stephen is the Director of the University of Louisville Guitar Festival and Competition. Alongside this role, Stephen is President of the Louisville Guitar Society, which hosts a concert series and advocates for guitar education through outreach programs and civic initiatives. From 2007-10 Stephen worked for the Guitar Foundation of America as Development Director and Convention Manager.
Here he is playing a bit of Ponce and an extract of “Illusions” by Xi Fu Hang.
After taking a break from the blog, there is now lots of new material.
I would like to start with this interview with the composer of a favourite piece with guitar quartets- “The Leaves be Green”.
The composer, Timothy Bowers, is a rather shadowy figure, but I managed to find him as he and I were the only ones raiding the drinks table at a reception for the Vida Quartet’s concert (featuring the ‘Full English’ on their eponymously titled CD, The Leaves Be Green) at King’s Place last year.
Timothy Bowers is Head of Undergraduate programmes at the Royal Academy of Music.
He is a versatile composer whose large output (approaching 100 pieces) includes works written for a wide range of instruments as soloists, including the series of six works commissioned by the Royal Academy of Music Brass department and published by Queen’s Temple Publications.
I was surprised to learn that he has written many guitar pieces, most of which are in manuscript, but some are available from Spartan Press.
Su Meng is famously a Chinese guitarist who studies and plays in the USA, as a soloist, in a duo (the Beijing Duo) with her compatriot Wang Yameng (whom John Williams and I met on our Chinese tour in 1995) and in a trio with her teacher, Manuel Barrueco.
In 2002, Meng Su won first prize in the 5th Vienna International Guitar Competition.
in 2005, she garnered first prize in the 48th Tokyo International Guitar Competition.
In 2006, she was the winner of the first Parkening Young Guitarist Competition.
in 2006, she was the winner of the first Iserlohn Guitarist Competition.
in 2014, Meng Su received the Maryland State Art Council’s Individual Artist Award in Classical Solo Performance!
in 2015, she was the winner of the fourth Parkening Guitar Competition.
I was lucky enough to catch her on my latest visit to Hong Kong just after she had won the prestigious Parkening Competition for the second time (the first time was as a junior) and we managed to have a brief conversation about practice, competitions and living in the USA.
There interview took place in the studio of my old friend Wong Yik Hung.
When I was in Chengdu recently, I had a fun time with Alex Wang, CEO and founder of Martinez guitars, and persuaded him to do an interview just before I left for Hong Kong.
Here is a little bit about Martinez guitars, which are sold worldwide. In between drinking competitions I was astonished to discover that Martinez sold 70,000 guitars last year!
The new era of classic guitar producers were initiated when a talented China luthier, Mr. Alex Wang (the founder of Martinez brand) who learnt from the American luthier, Mr. Kenny Hill who trained & influenced many aspect of Martinez team for best practices based on the USA hand-made classic guitar making. The third influential person in this joint venture is a German luthier, Mr. Wolfgang Jellinghaus who fill in the role as the tone woods sourcing for the best of Martinez guitar sound.
In summary, the tradition of hand-made best practices from USA, the internationally trained China skills to assemble guitars in a modern guitar factory out of China and the sourcing capability for best tone woods out of Germany are the example of a globally integrated classic guitar brand, that is the Martinez Guitars ! This is another proof that the buzz word of “globally integrated company” were no longer dominated by the high-tech industry, it is happening in the classic guitar industry. The result is a new era classic guitar which inherited the “the hand-made guitar making” quality out of the modern guitars factory facility at the affordable price points. The consumers who buy these guitars will benefit the outcome of ‘globally integrated company’ concept.
Intrigued? I was, and will be visiting the factory very soon.
On Monday, May 18th, 2015, at a ceremony at Yale School of Music, Naxos Chairman and owner Klaus Heymann was presented with the prestigious Samuel Simons Sanford Award. Previous winners include Yo-Yo Ma, Mstislav Rostropovich, Isaac Stern, Alfred Brendel, Emanuel Ax, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes, Aaron Copland, Pierre Boulez, Sir George Solti, Eugene Ormandy, and Juilliard President Joseph Polisi. Read More
I have known Klaus for many years – my first recording was with his wife, violinist Takako Nishizaki in 1985 – it is a collection of Chinese melodies for violin and guitar. This was first issued as an LP on HK Records and subsequently reissued on the Marco Polo label.
We recorded at the Gulbenkian Institute in Lisbon, and I have fond memories of Klaus helping to carry our bags so we wouldn’t damage our hands! I mention this because, since those days, Naxos was founded and one of the guiding lights in the selection process has been Takako.
Since then, I went on to record several CDs for Naxos and have recently produced a CD in China of the prodigy Kuang Junhong.
Naxos has gone from strength to strength and is a pioneer in the streaming of classical music via the Naxos Music Library. They now also have the ability to print CDs in smaller quantities and are establishing a classical music database.
Recently I was in Hong Kong, and had a chance to talk to Klaus about his latest award, his attitude to recording and digital distribution, and Naxos’ importance in the promotion of the classical guitar.
What job do you do after graduating in classical guitar?
When I first visited Chengdu two years ago, I was surprised that the professor at the conservatory, Xu Bao also ran a music shop.
I learned that this was a place his more advanced students could teach and it was a general meeting place for the increasing number of students he had.
There were also guitars for sale.
On this present visit, he had just opened a new shop, a hundred yards down from the previous one, but I also discovered that there were another two shops in other areas of Chengdu.
They all sold relatively expensive guitars from Altamira, Martinez and Milestone.
Overall, there were around 300 students and each shop was managed and part owned by one of Xu Bao’s students.
Intrigued, I wanted to find out why there was such a demand for guitar studios, their function in the life of students who have finished their studies and how Xu Bao manages to sell higher quality and more expensive guitars to his students.
The studio/shops themselves were also an interesting design, incorporating lots of open space and making use of all the space that was available.
In the following interview, I was ably assisted by one of Xu Bao’s former students, Wenjun Qi, who is now studying with Bill Kanengiser in Los Angeles.