Interview with Xu Bao in Chengdu

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While in Chengdu this time, I managed to grab a quick interview with guitar professor, Xu Bao and asked him about his teaching at Sichuan Conservatoire, the repertoire he uses, the role of a teacher, sponsors and Kuang Junhong.

6 thoughts on “Interview with Xu Bao in Chengdu

  1. Thanks for doing this interview. Very interesting.

    I have a lot of respect for Chinese. They have immense dedication, which can be seen in their hard work… and the results. Just have at some of the 2014 competition results:
    Nurtingen 1st prize: Liying Zhu
    Iserlohn 1st prize: Chia Wei Lin
    Iserlohn 2nd prize: Kuang Junhong

    Their technique is incredible… example

    Unfortunately I don’t like some interpretations, and I believe it is strongly related to ridiculous example that many western musicians are setting: one example amongst many.

    So even though I have utmost respect for many Chinese players, I personally really cannot stand the following performance. For me this goes against art at all levels. Where is the personal insight? Where is the creativity? Where is the phrasing?

    Of course I recognize that I’m pointing to Chinese players here. But is their their fault? I say: no! The fault is with the many western guitarists who elevate that kind of performance to some kind of golden ideal to strive for.
    So if the Iserlohn jury gives the young 14-year old the 2nd prize, then they underline that this is what they believe great playing is about. In turn reinforcing the boys teacher in what he is doing. Yes I did note that Xu Bao said he uses the metronome a lot!!

    To end: everyone has a right to his personal view (the Iserlohn jury have this right, and I have this right). My view: I would not attend a concert of those Bagatelles played that way, even if the concert were free of charge.

    I don’t want to come across as a cynical bastard, so I wish to give some recommendation as well… which is difficult…difficult…
    Perhaps listen to the Bagatelles as performed by Craig Ogden with orchestra-arrangement… for some ideas of colour… And drop the metronome…

  2. The good Chinese teachers such as Chen Zhi (search for metronome) and Xu Bao, learned about the metronome from western performers’ modernist ideals (example).

    Ironically, now we in turn, believe we are learning about the use of the metronome from the Chinese, thinking that it leads to great technical mastery. But it is not the metronome that makes them play technically at a high level, but instead dedication and hard work. (Go China! Technically the Chinese players use some clever approaches, such as shunning that terrible heavy rest-stroke and using highly controlled tirando. But let’s return to the topic of performance practice and interpretation…)

    It is important to note, that today the standard manner of performance practice in the west, is a Modernist manner, that focuses on metric accentuation – as opposed to lyrical phrasing – ; and this metric, rhythmically-tight performance can be enforced and practiced with a metronome and is something that occurs everywhere (recommended reading).

    Regarding “Modern Style”, you may wish to refer to Bruce Haynes’ “The End of Early Music”.
    Away from this mainstream Modern Style of Classical Performance Practice, there is also a much rarer view on performance practice, that still seeks meaning, individuality, expression, etc. Perhaps it is a rhetorical style of performance, with phrasing that is in fact not compatible with a strict beat (metronome).

    So the suggestion for Chinese teachers: Do some reading on these topics and question modern western ideals, because maybe these western ideals are themselves so far off the expressive mark, that they belie their own western historical traditions, recasting it into a modern mainstream manner (“Modern Style”) that is more suited to shallow consumption and conformance; than to expressive interpretation and creative individuality.

    Recommended reading:
    Alexander Evan Bonus, Robert Hill, Bruce Haynes, Sol Babitz, etc.

    Best wishes and: Go China! 😉

  3. It’s been a while since those above comments were made. Highly interesting views.

    Mr. Garcia, do you know if Xu Bao has been informed of these views? How does he see it? Is he surprised? Do you think he might change some of his teaching approaches?

    Thanks.

    • Hello there- as far as I know, Xu Bao has not read the comments section on my blog. He is always eager to learn although he has a definite style of teaching with younger kids (age 8 and up) which works for them.
      He is also willing for his students to learn from people who are themselves good musicians.
      I don’t think he would go for speculative views from people who have not demonstrated their professionalism in either their performance skills or teaching.
      He seems a very practical person who also has the gift of sifting good advice from bad, so I would equally be interested in his opinion on others views.
      Unfortunately my Chinese isn’t anywhere good enough to understand any subtleties of any reaction he might have, and I cannot speak for him in any case!

      • Well the view is not really “speculative”.
        I’d call it rare. (It is backed by some of the writing mentioned.)

        The view should probably only be followed, if it leads to enlightenment (and hence something positive).
        People from whom this is not the case, should probably just ignore it and carry on as usual.
        Particularly if their normal method works for them:
        If the don’t find these rare views compelling, they don’t need to accommodate them! “Yes” to freedom of choice!

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