This past autumn, Chinese guitarist Junhong Kuang and Turkish guitarist Celil Refik Kaya presented their Carnegie Hall concert debuts as part of the D’Addario Performance concert series. Kuang is the youngest to ever perform in this concert series, at age 12, weeks before his 13th birthday. Kuang began his studies three years ago with Professor Xu Bao at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music in China and won first prize at the Thailand International Guitar Festival and Competition in 2011. Last year, at Germany’s Iserlohn International Guitar Competition, Kuang won awards for both Best Interpretation of a Piece by Johann Sebastian Bach and Best Interpretation of a Spanish Composition. Pepe Romero and Manuel Barrueco provided an unexpected thrill for this young guitarist by asking him to perform with them onstage at this festival.
For his New York Carnegie Hall debut, Kuang performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Ciaccona (from Violin Partita in D Minor, BWV 1004) transcribed by Xu Bao; Johann Kaspar Mertz’s Fantaisie Hongroise, Op. 65 No. 3; Augustín Barrios Mangoré’s Choro de saudade and Un Sueno en la Floresta; Enrique Granados’ Danza espanola No. 4, Villanesca, transcribed by Manuel Barrueco, and Isaac Albéniz’s Sevilla (from Suite española, Op. 47), also transcribed by Manuel Barrueco.
It is easy to forget Kuang’s age when listening to him perform. His technique and musical sensibility reflect the maturity and comfortable ease most often heard in concert artists who are at three times his age.
His professor, Xu Bao, says that Kuang was in Lhasa, Tibet, studying folk and classical guitar with his father and other local teachers at age five before he arrived in Chengdu to study classical guitar formally at the age of nine at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music. “He performed Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra at age 12, the same year he was awarded for Best Interpretation of a Bach Piece and a Spanish piece at Iserlohn.”
Professor Xu Bao adds, “Kuang was excited about his Carnegie Hall debut, and he was surprised by the audience’s standing ovation twice.”
Unfortunately, Kuang was unable to spend much time in Manhattan because after dealing with jet lag and his preparation for the Carnegie Hall concert and another concert at a Manhattan high school, he had to return to China right away to resume classes. Kuang plans to release his first CD on the Naxos Label at some point this year.
23-year-old Turkish guitarist Celil Refik Kaya won first prize in the 2012 JoAnn Falletta International Concerto Competition and he has been a top prizewinner in several international competitions. After graduating from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University State Conservatory in Istanbul, he completed his Master of Music degree at the Mannes College The New School for the Arts, where he studied with Michael Newman. In addition, he studied privately with Grammy-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin. Kaya has entered the Doctor of Musical Arts program at the University of Texas’s Butler School of Music, where he is currently studying with Adam Holzman.
Kaya’s concert program featured Cinüçen Tanrıkorur’s Köyde Sabah (Morning in the Village), arranged by Celil Refik Kaya; Mauro Giuliani’s Gran Sonata Eroica, Op. 150; Celil’s Dance, written for Celil Refik Kaya by Jorge Morel; Morel’s Sonatina in 3 movements (Allegretto, Lento espressivo, Allegro); Isaac Albéniz’s Cataluña (from Suite espanola, Op. 47) and Niccolo Paganini’s Caprice in A Major for Solo Violin, Op. 1 No. 5, arranged by Tilman Hoppstock.
“My father [Dr. Mehmet Refik Kaya] used to play classical guitar and I grew listening his guitar playing,” Kaya says. “He also officially plays rebab, a type of bowed string instrument, in the Istanbul Historical Turkish Music Ensemble. When I first heard the sound of the guitar I fell in love with the instrument and nothing else impressed me as much. I started to play guitar when I was six years old by imitating the pieces my father used to play, such as Lagrima, Adelita and some Bach. What my teachers and father found interesting is that I started playing without knowing the position, technique and notes but everything was correct. When my father asked me if I was serious about learning to play, I told him that I wanted to be like Andrés Segovia because I was fan of Segovia and Williams. My father always brought home CDs of world famous artists such as David Russell, Manuel Barrueco, Julian Bream and Pepe Romero, which I grew up listening to. My entire world was the guitar.
“Living in a big city like Istanbul prepared me to go overseas, especially to another big city like New York because I knew going United States would help my career. Turkish schools are already very much like European schools and I thought if I continued my career somewhere abroad, pursuing further study in the United States would be better for me in terms of the American approach to learning music and the concert opportunities.”
One of these opportunities Kaya received was the honor of premiering a work at Carnegie Hall, written and dedicated to him by renowned Argentinian composer Jorge Morel, entitled, Celil’s Dance.
“My favorite composers are Agustín Barrios Mangoré and Jorge Morel. I mostly enjoy performing 20th century Latin American guitar music. After I arrived to New York, I played a few of Jorge Morel’s pieces for my professor, Michael Newman, and he told me that Morel lived in Forest Hills, Queens, which was very close to my home in Astoria. I couldn’t believe my ears because he was an unreachable legend for me. After buying a package of baklava to bring as a gift, we visited Morel. He cooked for us and listened to me play many of his pieces for him, which he seemed to really enjoy.
“Most importantly, he showed me very specific publication errors of these pieces and details about Latin American rhythms. Our meetings continued until he moved to Florida, just as I was moving to Austin, Texas, for my doctorate. Whenever I go to New York I still feel like he is there.
“A month before my Carnegie Hall debut, I received a parcel from Jorge Morel containing a hand-written score entitled, Celil’s Dance. I was so shocked to see it. Celil’s Dance is written in a dance form, a rhythm combination of 3/4 and 6/8 meter.”
Jorge Morel says, “I was very impressed by his playing when Celil came to visit, along with Tony Acosta of Luthier Music, Michael Newman and Laura Oltman. I wrote this piece for him not only for his talent but also his beautiful personality. The piece uses some harmonics to create a campanella, bell-like sound and is imbued with a Latin American spirit. My inspiration came when I sat down with the guitar and started improvising some rhythmic patterns that I use often. When I find something that I like in terms of rhythm and harmony, then the melody flows from there.
“In the case of this piece, it opens with the simple campanella sound and I added some harmonics notes to the melody and to the lower notes as well. The top notes are in 6/8 meter while the lower ones are in ¾ meter and I continue that for several bars with some fast runs on 16th notes to vary the melody a little,” Morel says. “It comes to a 12 bars of meno tempo to take a little break and continues with the tempo primo, this time I add some block chords to the melody and rhythm, followed by a few bars of fast runs with 16th notes played legato, which sounds good on the instrument with a good player of course. Next, you hear the original melody in a different tonality with some development, arriving at a sort of coda similar to the beginning. I would say that the form of this piece is like a rondo. When I dedicate a work, like in this case, I think of the player’s technique and musicality but soon I keep writing like it is for myself, and hope that the performer will like it.”
Celil likes it. We all do. He plans to record it for a forthcoming CD on the Naxos label. Stay tuned.
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Official D’Addario video of Junhong Kuang performing Barrios’ Un Sueño en La Floresta
Official D’Addario video of Celil Refik Kaya performing Barrios’ Las Abejas.
Celil Refik Kaya’s website.
Celil Refik Kaya’s Youtube channel.