Tengyue Zhang, Candid Virtuoso


Maddie Silcox

Zhang prepares to start his piece.

Guitar students, instrumentalists, and music-lovers alike gathered close to the Menchville auditorium stage, chattering quietly and waiting for the concert to begin. From the stairwell, a man walked across center stage, smiling and laughing about words exchanged with the Menchville guitar teacher. The chatter softened and the man with the bubbly attitude waved at his crowd,

“Hello! Call me TY”

Tengyue Zhang is a classical guitarist- one with first place music competition titles across the globe, two advanced degrees in Music from Juilliard, and a claim to First Prize in the Guitar Foundation of American International Concert Artists Competition in 2017, which is known as the most competitive guitar showcase in the world. His website lists accolade upon accolade for guitar performance over his 21 year-career, starting at age 5 in his hometown of Hebei, China and traveling around the world to play.

“From when I was little, I started with many different things. I did swim, I did martial arts,” Zhang explained. But, he found his real love of guitar through a shared passion for music with his father. “I remember the first time I held a guitar, under the big clock in the living room with my father.” From there, Zhang’s passion grew into an esteemed career, and if you hear him, it’s not hard to understand why.

With each song, Zhang’s skill with the guitar held his audience with rapt attention. Fingers flew across the frets, but he smiled and swayed effortlessly, letting the notes ring out into the auditorium with feeling. Like any good classical guitarist, Zhang made his one instrument sound like an ensemble, balancing low chords and high melody notes with care. He played 6 pieces and showcased his wide appreciation for different styles of music, playing everything from French contemporary, to a baroque court dance, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian jazz, and (when asked what the first song he ever played was) Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. After each piece, the audience erupted into well-deserved applause.

Partway through the concert, Zhang was joined onstage by Sam Cornette, a Menchville senior and 3-time member of the VA State Guitar Ensemble. When the masterclass commenced, Cornette’s classmates cheered in support of their friend, who played Antonio Lauro’s “Suite Venezolana” while Zhang listened. There was no criticism to be found for Cornette’s playing, and Zhang took a moment to the audience to explain how important it is to express yourself in playing music.

“I love that interpretation of music…I hear Sam’s soul in his music.”

After the masterclass, the audience of young musicians asked Zhang questions about his career, his musical philosophy, and his advice for young instrumentalists. Zhang answered candidly, telling the audience that he still has trouble dedicating himself to practice sometimes, even at such an advanced playing level.

“I used to practice 6-8  hours before auditions and competitions, and 5 hours usually. Now I just sit at my table, watch youtube, and eat chips all the time,” he laughed. “But, I eat my chips with a fork so I can play at the same time without getting the strings dirty,” said Zhang, giving several students in the audience new ideas for multitasking.

“Don’t practice too much; don’t think you have to practice. If you volunteer to suffer through the practice, then you know you really want to do that [play music].”

Zhang’s overall message for the students was to not take the joy out of their music. It’s easy for young musicians to feel burned out or inferior to more experienced players, which can lead to a bad relationship with their music and practice. He urged his audience to instead embrace their appreciation for music- not forcing themselves to practice or keep going, but playing for the fun of it and allowing themselves to speak through music.

“You might have better technique, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be a better musician,” he continued. “If you love it, if you have soul in your music, then you’re a good musician.”