The Chinese guitarist Xuefei Yang is, in the words of the Irish Examiner, "an unlikely guitar hero," coming from a country where the classical guitar had only a slight presence. She was the first player to study guitar at the conservatory level in China, the first Chinese guitarist to launch an international career, and the first to present guitar performances at Beijing's prestigious National Center of Performing Arts.
Yang was born in Beijing on March 15, 1977. The restrictions of China's Cultural Revolution, which had prohibited Western music and instruments, had just been lifted. There was no tradition of teaching guitar in China, but Yang's mother, realizing that her child was both hyperactive and musically talented, suggested that Yang join a guitar group at school since she was too small to lift an accordion. Yang began studying with Chinese guitarist Chen Zhi, and at her debut at the first Chinese International Guitar Festival, she impressed the Spanish ambassador, who gave her a guitar. Other fans included guitarist John Williams, who gave her conservatory two guitars for her and other top students when he heard her perform in Beijing, and the nonagenarian Spanish guitar music composer Joaquín Rodrigo, who attended a Madrid concert by the 14-year-old Yang in the early 1990s.
Even after this record of success, Yang faced challenges when she entered Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music. "I...felt inferior to the other students and frustrated, because lots of teachers and classmates didn't know about my instrument and therefore looked down on it," she told the Examiner. "That gave me the will-power to do well and demonstrate to them just what my instrument can do." She earned a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London and gained a degree with distinction and several student prizes in 2002.
Yang went on to win international prizes and has performed all over North America, Europe, and the Far East. She participated in a 2003-2004 Night of the Proms tour on which she was featured at 54 concerts with a total audience of 800,000. She also performed at the 2018 BBC Proms in the Park and the 2019 Bastille Day celebrations at the Eiffel Tower.
Yang has performed many Western standards but has also taken the lead in commissioning new Chinese music for guitar. Her 2005 recording Si Ji featured Chinese miniatures for guitar. The following year, she joined the roster of the EMI label and released Romance de Amor. In 2016, she released the first of her duo recordings with English tenor Ian Bostridge, a mixed program of English and Chinese music, and in 2018 she joined violinist Mengla Huang for Milonga del Angel, a recording of music by Astor Piazzolla on the Deutsche Grammophon label.