Cham-Ber Huang - Biography

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Harmonica Virtuoso...The Performer 

Cham-Ber Huang received his first formal musical training on the violin in the prep school of the Shanghai Music Conservatory in his early teens. It was a rather late start for study of the instrument and after a few years of hard work, he realized that chances were remote that he would become another Paganini of the violin. He decided to continue by himself the study on the humble harmonica, which he had begun at the age of six. Experiencing practically no competition, Cham-Ber Huang eventually achieved renown as an outstanding harmonica concert artist.

Cham-Ber Huang  - harmonica virtuoso...the performer and his artistryIn the late 1940's, Dr. John Leighton Stuart, the former Ambassador to China, heard the young harmonica player in a full-fledged concert. He said to Cham-Ber, "Young man, I would like to hear you one day performing in Carnegie Hall." Cham-Ber came to New York in June of 1950 and, with the blessing of Ambassador Stuart, began his musical career in the new world.

Cham-Ber Huang was introduced to Mary Coolidge in New York in the early 1950's. A cousin of President Coolidge, she was a retired piano professor of the Juilliard School. Coolidge coached Huang to further his musical artistry. He gave his New York debut recital at Town Hall in 1953 but soon realized that it was not easy to launch a concert career in the land of opportunity, especially with an instrument that had little recognition in the serious music field. Thus, he was prepared to travel a long and hard road to become a top musical artist.

He returned to Town Hall for another concert in April of 1964, assisted by the noted harpsichordist, Robert Conant, and the Colby String Quartet. He received rave reviews from the critics of the Times and Tribune. Soon thereafter, Huang received definitive entry's in such prestigious music encyclopedias as the Riemann's Musik Lexikon of Germany and the Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians of England.

In his more recent recital at Alice Tully Hall of Lincoln Center, Huang performed in collaboration with the renowned New York Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra. He also appeared in joint programs with other prominent artists at Carnegie hall and Avery Fisher Hall.

When Huang noticed that the harmonica was taught hardly anywhere, and that practically all harmonica players played by ear, he began teaching the instrument in 1957 at the Turtle Bay Music School in New York City. The program is now carried on by a faculty who became qualified teachers under Huang's tutelage.

Because of the lack of serious harmonica artists, it is natural that the harmonica is considered as an instrument of little importance in the eyes of serious musicians. Huang has changed the image of the harmonica through participation in chamber music concerts. In 1974, the Grand Teton Music Festival featured Cham-Ber Huang in an evening of Classical Harmonica in Concert. He was assisted by the best known chamber music players at the festival to perform with him, including oboist Elaine Douvas of the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, harpsichordist Lionel Party of the Juilliard School, bassoonist Chuck Ullery of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and others. Huang returned to the Festival for five more seasons and performed an entirely new chamber music program each time. Huang discovered that right in the middle of the rehearsal, musicians became oblivious that he was playing the harmonica. All they heard was the technical ability and musical interpretation and style that was equal to the level of their own instruments. No words are needed to speak up on behalf of the harmonica. The image of the harmonica is automatically elevated when it is performed musically and technically without compromise and at an equal level.

When the celebrated American composer Robert Russell Bennett heard Cham-Ber Huang at a concert, he offered to write a Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra especially for him. The Concerto turned out to be a great and exciting major work and very pianistic for the harmonica. (Suggest: Considering the harmonica as the pocket piano?) The Harmonica Concerto was Mr. Bennett's last major work before his death in 1981, at the age of 86. The first performance of the Concerto was presented by the Hong Kong Philharmonic in 1981 with Karal Husa of Cornell University conducting and Cham-Ber Huang as harmonica soloist. At a Lincoln Center program in memory of Mr. Bennett, featuring Morton Gould, Ainslee Cox, Cham-Ber Huang and other noted friends, the recording of the Bennett Harmonica Concerto was played for the audience. It received a long standing ovation at the conclusion.

Since 1979, Huang has returned to China to appear as guest soloist with the Central Beijing Philharmonic, the Shanghai Symphony, and the Symphony Orchestra of the Central Ballet Society. Huang offered an equal courtesy to Taiwan when he performed as soloist with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra. Huang has also performed as guest soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other orchestras in the U.S.

There are harmonica clubs in almost every major city across the U.S. At the 1993 annual convention in Detroit, Cham-Ber Huang received the Harmonica Player of the Year Award, presented to him by the national organization, Society for the Advancement and Preservation of the Harmonica.