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.
When I first met David Leisner, he was helping guitarists to get over focal dystonia. He stayed and taught at my house, and was the first person to offer real hope to many guitarists who were suddenly struck by the focal dystonia. He had been through it himself and had subjected himself to all manner of therapies before working out a way through before any permanent damage was done. He is a very patient and encouraging teacher.
David Leisner and GG
David and Marcin Dylla
Now, he is back on form as one of the most innovative guitarists around, with a beautiful sound, solid technique and unerring musicianship.
He is also an exciting composer, hence an early epithet of “Triple-Threat performer, composer and teacher” bestowed by the New York Times.
Here is a revealing interview I did with him at this year’s West Dean Summer school, where he talks about dystonia, David del Tredici and performing. Shortly after this, he went on tour in China, where it seems he was a big hit.
Here is a link to his latest CD, Facts of Life featuring music by Bach, David del Tredici, and Golijov
At Iserlohn’s annual guitarfest this summer, I had the opportunity to talk to Stephen Gossabout his busy composing schedule and the final concert of the Tetra Guitar Quartet, which he founded and has nourished over the last 26 years.
He is one of the busiest guitar composers around, but also writes for orchestra and other instruments.
I also managed to catch the last encore which the specially reconstituted Tetra Quartet played at this, their final ever performance.
A historic and triumphant, but sad occasion.
Here is the interview with Steve Goss, whom I have known since he was a young student with extremely short hair and an unflappable performing style (I remember a particularly unsubtle joke involving the Benjamin Britten Nocturnal and a condom at an early summer school of Steve Gordon’s in Prussia Cove in Cornwall. Goss carried on serenely…)
Here is the final encore – a Sevillana (!) by Elgar, with Stephen Goss, Carl Herring(flown in from Japan), Alan Neave(flown in from Glasgow) and ex-NYGE alumnus, Michael Button(flown in).
Here is an earlier incarnation of Tetra playing Goss’s wonderful compilation of Mahler tunes.
Max was given his first guitar at the age of nine, cost six guineas from the Bell Musical Catalogue. The first song he learnt to play was “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles. After playing in various local bands, in 1980 he moved to London to join street theatre group the Demolition Decorators, touring France and Holland with them. Whilst in London he also played in a number of musical/theatre projects at the Albany Empire, Tricycle Theatre Kilburn and others, and in London he also tried his hand at busking for the first time.Tiring of London, or possibly London tiring of him, he returned home to Oxford and has been there ever since
I recently had the good fortune to meet my old friend Johnny Hinkes who was busking on the streets of Oxford. We had worked on a session together many years ago and I was impressed by his ability to get into the meaning of the music we were playing as well as his reading and improvisational ability.
So why busk?
We had an interesting conversation about busking, playing for love or money,accompanying classical music, Richard Rodney Bennett and “Stealing Bob Dylan from Woodstock: When the World Came to the Isle of Wight” by Ray Foulk, amongst other subjects.
Oxford City Council encourages busking in the city centre. It adds a great deal to the vibrant and exciting city centre experience that we all know and love. For the last decade, the City Council has had a Code of Practice that buskers are asked to agree to observe when they obtain a busking permit from the Council. The Code includes:
Not busking for more than 60 minutes in one place
Not obstructing the highway
Using amplification responsibly and maintaining a reasonable volume.
The aim of the Code has always been to create a level playing field for all buskers and to stop any nuisance to everyone else who uses the city centre – traders, local residents and visitors. We currently have no legal power to enforce this Code of Practice and have received complaints from traders, in particular, about buskers playing loudly and for long periods of time outside their shops, which is not fair to them.
The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) has been proposed in order to provide a legal power to take action against busking which leads to complaints from the public. In all cases, buskers will be asked to conform to the Code before any enforcement measures are used.
The PSPO will allow the Police or designated Council officers to issue a £100 fine or, in the most extreme of cases, to take the person to court, which could result in a maximum fine of £1,000.
But the Order will also remove the current requirement to obtain a permit before busking. After the PSPO has been introduced, people wishing to busk will be able to do so without contacting us in any way. All they will need to do is adhere to the existing Code of Practice.
The measures proposed will therefore have no impact on the vast majority of buskers and will in fact make it easier for musicians to busk in Oxford city centre. We think the measures will help to improve the liveliness of the city centre.
Released on Wednesday 20 May 2015
Oxford City Council Leader Bob Price said: “Point three of the Code of Practice – to smile, enjoy yourself and entertain others – is there to encourage people to regard busking as fun, rather than just as a way to make money. “It is not an element of the Code that would be the subject of enforcement action.”
I was in Iserlohn this summer and met American guitarist, luthier and composer Kenny Hill.
He is the third man who together with Alex Wang and Wolfgang Jellinghaus make up the driving power behind the Martinez Guitar Company.
I looked through a composition he had published, which Johannes Moller plays, and this seemed a good occasion to ask him his views on playing, making and writing.
I first met Wolfgang Jellinghaus in Chengdu, where he and i seemed to be the only ones capable of taking on a drinking challenge proposed by a couple of university administrators!
Needless to say, we beat them hollow (I think we did anyway – I seem to recall pitchers of Mou Tai being bandied about).
I learned that Wolfgang was one of the triumvirate who make up the Martinez guitar company, the other two being Chinese entrpreneur and luthier Alex Wang and Kenny Hill from America.
Wolfgang also produces his own brand of “Milestone” guitars, and I was lucky enough to grab an interview as he drove us to a concert at the Iserlohn Festival this year.
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.