Manuel Barrueco & Beijing Guitar Duo: China West

Sun, June 22, 2014, 4:30pm


Two of today’s brightest presences in the world of guitar. This program includes solos, duos, and trios from China and the Western World with works of the Chinese composers Tan Dun and Chen Yi, as well as the music of J.S. Bach and Brazilian composer Sergio Assad.

Yi / China West Suite
Bach / Sonata in G, BWV 1019
Dun / Eight Memories in Watercolor


Turina / Sonata Op. 61
Assad / The Enchanted Island
Piazzolla / Fuga y Misterio


Watch Manuel Barrueco and the Beijing Guitar Duo below.


Manuel Barrueco playing a piece by Isaac Albeniz in 1993


The Beijing Guitar Duo playing a rendition of a Scarlatti piano sonata


Manuel Barrueco and the Beijing Guitar Duo together in 2013

Grammy nominated Manuel Barrueco is internationally recognized as one of the most important guitarists of our time. His unique artistry has been continually described as that of a superb instrumentalist and a superior and elegant musician, possessing a seductive sound and uncommon lyrical gifts.

His career has been dedicated to bringing the guitar to the main musical centers of the world. During three decades of concertizing, he has performed across the United Sates from the New World Symphony in Miami to the Seattle Symphony, and from the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to New York’s Lincoln Center.

He has appeared with such prestigious orchestras as the Philadelphia Orchestra and with the Boston Symphony under the direction of Seiji Ozawa, in the American premiere of Toru Takemitsu’s To the Edge of Dream.

His international tours have taken him to some of the most important musical centers in the world. Highlights include the Royal Albert Hall in London, Musikverein in Vienna, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Philharmonie in Berlin, Teatro Real in Madrid, and Palau de la Musica in Barcelona. In Asia he has completed close to a dozen tours of Japan and made repeated appearances in Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Barrueco’s commitment to contemporary music and to the expansion of the guitar repertoire has led him to collaborations with many distinguished composers such as Steven Stucky, Michael Daugherty, Roberto Sierra, Arvo Pärt, Gabriela Lena Frank, Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, and Toru Takemitsu.

Composed of Meng Su and Yameng Wang, the Beijing Guitar Duo first met at the Central Conservatory in Beijing, China, where they both studied with Chen Zhi. In 2006, the year of their graduation, they met Manuel Barrueco while he was on tour in Hong Kong. At his personal invitation, they applied and were accepted to his studio at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, USA, on a full scholarship. At his recommendation, they officially formed the Beijing Guitar Duo in December 2009.

Each young woman came to the partnership with exceptional credentials, including a string of competition awards. Both were born in the coastal city of Qingdao, in the province of Shandong, China. Ms. Su’s honors include victories at the Vienna Youth Guitar Competition and the Christopher Parkening Young Guitarist Competition, while Ms. Wang was the youngest guitarist to win the Tokyo International Guitar Competition at the age of 12, and she was invited by Radio France to perform at the Paris International Guitar Art Week at age 14. Both young artists had given solo recitals both in China and abroad, and had made solo recordings before they formed the duo.

Among their first achievements, the Beijing Guitar Duo received the Solomon H. Snyder Award, which underwrites the New York debut. As a result, the duo made their New York debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in April 2009 to critical acclaim. It was with this concert that the Beijing Guitar Duo launched their international concert career. This past season took the duo to countries such as Holland, Germany, Ireland, Finland, Croatia, China, and the US.

The duo has also toured extensively with their mentor Manuel Barrueco, appearing in such countries as Germany, Finland, Spain, as well as the United States.

The duo’s first recording, “Maracaípe,” released on Tonar Music their exclusive label, received a Latin GRAMMY nomination for Maracaípe, a work written and dedicated to the Beijing Guitar Duo by Sérgio Assad. Their second recording titled “Bach to Tan Dun” features music of Bach, Scarlatti, Tedesco, Granados, as well as the world premiere recording of Tan Dun’s “Eight Memories in Watercolor” in an arrangement for two guitars. In May 2014 they will release a trio recording with their mentor Manuel Barrueco.


Composer Biographies:

As a Distinguished Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, a prolific composer and recipient of the prestigious Charles Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2001-04), Chen Yi blends Chinese and Western traditions, transcending cultural and musical boundaries. Through doing so, she serves as an ambassador to the arts, creating music that reaches a wide range of audiences, inspiring people with different cultural backgrounds throughout the world.  Chen Yi’s music has been commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin, Yo-Yo Ma, Evelyn Glennie, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic to name only a few. Dr. Chen has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005.

Johann Sebastian Bach – perhaps the greatest composer that ever lived – was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist of the Baroque period. He enriched many established German styles through his skill in counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organization, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. His music is revered for its intellectual depth, technical command, and artistic beauty.

The conceptual and multifaceted composer/conductor Tan Dun has made an indelible mark on the world’s music scene with a creative repertoire that spans the boundaries of classical, multimedia, Eastern and Western musical systems. Tan Dun has composed distinct series of works which reflect his individual compositional concepts and personal ideas — among them a series which brings his childhood memories of shamanistic ritual into symphonic performances; works which incorporate elements from the natural world; and multimedia concerti. Opera has a significant role in Tan Dun’s creative output of the past decade, mostly recently with the premiere of The First Emperor by the Metropolitan Opera in December 2006 with a title role created for Plácido Domingo.  Of his many works for film, Tan Dun’s score for Ang Lee’s film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, received an Oscar Award for best original score.

Joaquín Turina’s music is characterized by a strong Andalusian flavour contained within traditional compositional forms. After initial studies in Seville and Madrid, he spent nine years in Paris from 1905, studying theory with Vincent d’Indy and piano with Moritz Moszkowski. It was in Paris that he became friends with Isaac Albéniz and Manuel de Falla, who encouraged him to use traditional Spanish music in his work. At the start of World War I he returned to Spain to work as a composer, teacher and critic, and was appointed as Professor of Composition at the Royal Conservatory in Madrid in 1931.

Born into a musical family in Mococa, São Paulo, Brazil, Sérgio Assad began creating music for the guitar not long after he began playing the instrument. By age 14, he was arranging and writing original compositions for the guitar duo he had formed with his brother, Odair Assad. At the age of 17, he and his brother began their guitar studies in Brazil with Monina Tavora, a former disciple of Andrés Segovia. Sérgio Assad later went on to study conducting and composition at the Escola Nacional de Música in Rio de Janeiro and worked privately with Brazilian composition teacher, Esther Scliar. Mr. Assad has created a vast repertoire of widely performed works for guitar.

Ástor Piazzolla was a prolific Argentine composer of tango and Argentine and Uruguayan urban popular song and dance music.  His stylized approach to the tango at first generated heated controversy in his native country.  However, his music is applauded today throughout the world as a new creative stage in tango development.  In Piazzolla’s words, “the only way of changing the tango is to study music seriously.  First you must listen to Bach, then play all the tangos you want.” Experimenting with the fugue form was a favorite of Piazzolla, blending baroque formality with his own rhythmic style, as in Fuga y Misterio. Fuga y Misterio is an instrumental excerpt from his “operita” (little opera) María de Buenos Aires, a bracingly athletic four-voice tango fugue with an ethereal coda. In A-B-A form, Revirado has a jaunty outer section, uncommonly blithe for Piazzolla, but with all the expected lyrical longing in the middle.

The CHINA WEST program takes its name for the China West Suite by Chen Yi, but here the concept of the program is meant to include music from China and the rest of the Western World as represented in the works of Tan Dun and Chen Yi, and Brazilian composer Sergio Assad.

China West Suite by Chinese composer Chen Yi, is here transcribed by Manuel Barrueco for three guitars with the blessing of the composer. Dr. Chen says this about the suite:

“The authentic folk music from China West has amazed and inspired the me to write this piece, which has folk music elements drawn from the folk songs Gadameilin and Pastoral of the Meng People (Mongolian); Ashima of the Yi People; Du Mu and Amaliehuo of the Zang People (Tibetian), and Dou Duo and the Lusheng ensemble music of the Miao People.”

The Sonata in G, BWV 1019 by J. S. Bach is transcribed for three guitars by Manuel Barrueco. Originally written for harpsichord and violin, Mr. Barrueco has arranged the work for solo guitar and guitar duo, rather than a proper guitar trio. In this version of the work, Bach included five movements: fast, slow, fast, slow, and fast, with a solo keyboard movement in the center which is now a solo for the guitar duo. In addition, Mr. Barrueco added one movement, an introduction to the second movement–a prelude–performed on one guitar.

Tan Dun’s sublime Eight Memories in Watercolor was originally written for piano but is offered here in an arrangement by Manuel Barrueco. The arrangement brings out the exquisitely beautiful colors of the two guitars. Tan Dun wrote the piece when he left Hunan to study at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

“It was my opus one. The Cultural Revolution had just ended, China just opened its doors, I was immersed in studying Western classical and modern music, but I was also homesick. I longed for the folksongs and savored the memories of my childhood. Therefore, I wrote my first piano work as a diary of longing.”– Tan Dun

Flamenco elements flash through the rhythms and melodic gesture of the three-movement Sonata Op. 61 by Joaquín Turina, which dates from 1931. Turina manages to incorporate these adroitly into the cyclical form: the third subject of the first movement – a hesitant, coquettish Allgretto tranquillo which is only distantly reminiscent of a sonata movement – reappears towards the end of the finale, thus creating a kind of architectural brace.

The Enchanted Island by Sergio Assad was written for Manuel Barrueco and the Beijing Guitar Duo, at the request of the artists. Sergio Assad got his inspiration from the China Town in Havanna, Cuba, and says:

“An unsuspecting visitor to Havana, Cuba will be surprised to find the “Barrio Chino”, one of the oldest Chinatowns in Latin America. The presence of Asians in the new world (if one ignores the first visitors crossing the Bering tens of thousands of years ago) began after what is known as the Manila Galleon trade dating from the 16th century. Since that time, generations of Asians have immigrated to Latin American and Caribbean countries bringing their culture and music.

The idea of Asian communities living in tropical places like Havana and São Paulo inspired me to write the piece named The Enchanted Island for three guitars.

This guitar trio was written for my dear friend and colleague Manuel Barrueco to be performed by him and the outstanding Beijing Guitar Duo. To represent the mixing of such different musical cultures as the Asian and the Latin American, I used the Asian hemitonic and anhemitonic pentatonic scales merged with the Afro-Cuban rhythms. The piece has very well defined borders going from a vague and ambiguous hemitonic pentatonic introduction to a pulsating clave rhythm that uses the same thematic material that served as introduction. Later, the clave rhythm changes into a syncopated rhythmic pattern that accompanies a still hemitonic pentatonic dialogue. Two slow sections follow: the first one is based on a strict Chinese anhemitonic scale and the second is based on the old Cuban dance known as Habanera. After a modified recap of section A, the piece ends with a “santeria” ritual.

“Santeria is a religion of common practice in Cuba that merges the worship of the Yoruba deities with the veneration of Roman Catholic saints. The strong and hypnotic rhythmic pattern provides an exciting ending for this piece.” – Sérgio Assad

Ástor Piazzolla was a prolific Argentine composer of tango and Argentine and Uruguayan urban popular song and dance music.  His stylized approach to the tango at first generated heated controversy in his native country.  However, his music is applauded today throughout the world as a new creative stage in tango development.  In Piazzolla’s words, “the only way of changing the tango is to study music seriously.  First you must listen to Bach, then play all the tangos you want.”

Experimenting with the fugue form was a favorite of Piazzolla, blending baroque formality with his own rhythmic style, as he does in Fuga y Misterio.  In A-B-A form, Revirado has a jaunty outer section, uncommonly blithe for Piazzolla, but with all the expected lyrical longing in the middle. Both works are transcriptions of Sergio Assad.