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Café Concert: Beijing Guitar Duo

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VIDEOS: Beijing Guitar Duo plays Tan Dun and Sergio Assad

In his bestselling 2005 book, "The World is Flat," New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman described what feels like an increasingly smaller world where information, economies and supply chains are closely interconnected.

Friedman's analysis could just as well apply to the arts. Consider the Beijing Guitar Duo. The group hails from China, studied in the United States with a Cuban guitar legend, and plays music ranging from Scarlatti to Brazilian samba. It has won numerous international competitions and tours throughout the US, Europe and Asia.

Comprised of Meng Su and Yameng Wang, the duo has released two albums, the most recent being “Bach to Tan Dun.” As WQXR’s Album of the Week, the 2011 collection includes works by Scarlatti, Bach, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and the world premiere recording of Tan Dun's Eight Memories in Watercolor, arranged for the duo by Manuel Barrueco. 

This global repertoire is an outgrowth of the duo's own journey. Su and Wang both grew up in the coastal city of Qingdao but met at the Central Conservatory in Beijing, where they were students of one of China’s leading guitar teachers, Chen Zhi. The two musicians already had begun solo careers when, in 2006, they met Barreuco, the noted Cuban guitarist who teaches at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore. He invited them for an audition, they immediately accepted, and soon the pair began collaborating formally as a duo.

Since moving to Baltimore, the duo has made a New York debut in Carnegie Hall in 2010, signed with a management company, and received a Latin Grammy nomination for its debut recording, “Maracaípe,” which features works written by guitar master Sergio Assad. “Maybe in previous lives we were Brazilian,” joked Su, who explained that Assad’s title track was named for the lush surfing beach near Pernambuco (see below).

In the WQXR Café, the duo also performed three movements from Eight Memories in Watercolor a delicate, colorful suite by the Chinese composer Dun that incorporates several Hunan folk songs. The duo first heard the piece in its original piano version, recorded by Lang Lang, and their teacher volunteered to arrange it. Being a relatively unusual instrumental format, much of the guitar duo’s repertoire consists of arrangements; Su and Wang have also adapted piano works by Scarlatti, Bach and others.

Even as they branch out, the two guitarists hope to put a personal stamp on their concert programs by drawing from the rich musical heritage of their native culture. “Chinese music now in the world is very interesting for the world,” said Su. "From our own experience people love it."

Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber; Text: Brian Wise