Yuja Wang, epitome of a child prodigy and virtuosa

Yuja Wang    (Photo credit: Felix Broede for Deutsche Grammophon & yujawang.com)

Yuja Wang (Photo credit: Felix Broede for Deutsche Grammophon & yujawang.com)

“You cannot imagine how it spoils one to have been a child prodigy”
- Franz Liszt, virtuoso pianist and composer

When diminutive Chinese pianist Yuja Wang made her Carnegie Hall debut in October 2011, the classical music world has already acknowledged the arrival of the then 24-year old prodigious talent.

Hailed as a musician with “super-human artistry and control of the piano keyboard”, she has already captured the imagination of millions of music lovers, from classical music-loving baby boomers to Gen X & Y fans of contemporary pop music.

However, a stunning performance at the Hollywood Bowl last year was mixed with controversy surrounding her attire. Dressed in an impossibly short skirt, the Los Angeles Times’ Mark Swed wrote:

“Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult. Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible. The infernal helicopters that brazenly buzz the Bowl seemed, on this night, like long-necked paparazzi wanting a good look.”

Personally, I felt his comments above were regrettable because it is Wang’s music that spoke louder that evening.

Her interpretation of Scriabin’s prelude in B major Opus 11 No. 11 in the video below is melodiously heart-wrenching.

I sense her urgency in communicating beautiful tonal colours with great passion and yet with such measured eloquence. No matter how many times I listen to her play this short two-page prelude which I regard among Scriabin’s finest, I am left wanting.

The technical demands of Scriabin’s works seem irrelevant as she effortlessly glides over leaping passages and arpeggios with her beautiful legato playing.

Selected preludes of Aleksander Scriabin for piano solo played by Yuja Wang

(Listening tip: use a good set of headphones if possible)

Wang’s playing is refreshing because there is youthful vigour and elegance. Yet her power and explosiveness comes to the fore when called upon. At the same time, I hear a renewed interest and style that is different from the great virtuoso of the 20th century like Horowitz and Rubinstein. Her rubato playing especially with Chopin’s music and the late romantics are not as distinctive as her male contemporaries but elegant enough to command attention and respect that says she is different.

But it is also Wang’s rendition of Georges Cziffra’s transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee where both hands play extremely difficult passages of interlocking octaves that shows off delicate control at such furious tempo that it almost defies super human capability.

It is not surprising her youtube video of this classic piece below has clocked over 2 millions views.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee (Cziffra transcription) played by Yuja Wang

(Listening tip: use a good set of headphones if possible)

Just like her countryman Lang Lang who was discovered by Christophe Eschenbach, Yuja Wang’s early career was guided under the masterful wings of Michael Tilson Thomas, a virtuoso pianist himself.

Musical director of the San Francisco Symphony, Thomas collaborated with Wang to produce a series of outstanding concerts that showcased and enhanced the soloist’s extensive repertoire from the piano concertos of Beethoven to the 20th century atonal discords of Sergei Prokofiev’s works.

Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise Op. 34 No. 14 played by Yuja Wang

(Listening tip: use a good set of headphones if possible)

The music by Yuja Wang, Lang Lang and so many other notable Chinese pianists are creating a torrential wave of interest among children in China. A reported 40 million children were inspired to take up piano playing since the Beijing Olympics.

It is also heartening to see the 2010 International Chopin Piano Competition has produced a female winner in Yulianna Avdeeva after a lapse of forty five years when the great Martha Argerich won in 1965.

Yuja Wang (Photo credit: Christian Steiner)

Yuja Wang (Photo credit: Christian Steiner)

Wang has released her new album Fantasia 2012, a collection of some of the great works by Scarlatti, Albeniz, Bizet, Schubert and Rachmaninoff, including his epic and haunting Little Red Riding Hood etude (Etudes-Tableaux, Op.39; No.6 in A minor).

Yuja Wang    (Photo credit: Felix Broede for Deutsche Grammophon & yujawang.com)

Yuja Wang (Photo credit: Felix Broede for Deutsche Grammophon & yujawang.com)

Regardless of the controversy of short skirts in concerts, Wang’s immense artistry and virtuosity speaks louder to me and she may yet inspire another generation of female artists to grace the great concert halls around the world.

Lets celebrate and be thankful that we have the beauty of her music for decades yet to come.

So dear readers, do you like classical music and if so do you have a favourite classical musician?

For more information about Yuja Wang, visit her website at www.yujawang.com

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14 Responses to Yuja Wang, epitome of a child prodigy and virtuosa

  1. JasmyneTea says:

    I’m more into Romantic and Baroque, but I don’t mind classical either. I think the whole “short dress, high stiletto” thing will possibly become Wang’s trademark – and it certainly has gotten her some attention – but I also think she may be trying to convey that classical music doesn’t have to be all formal and stuffy all the time.
    Great post!

  2. Carolyn Jung says:

    Talented and pretty and so poised. She has it all! ;)

  3. Kimby says:

    Classical music is my favorite! As I was watching Miss Wang’s fingers fly over the keys in these videos — so lyrical and expressive and impossibly fast at times — it made me realize what a tremendous blessing her talent is to the world. Thanks for sharing these clips and your thoughts!

  4. Hotly Spiced says:

    What a talent! And she’s also beautiful. She should be able to wear whatever she feels comfortable in. Sometimes when it comes to classical performances there’s an expectation that the performer will be dressed conservatively. I think what she’s doing is attracting a younger audience and that can only be a good thing.

  5. Hannah says:

    Thank you for this! I absolutely loved those clips. I do enjoy classical music, particularly in concert. What a phenomenal lady!

  6. As someone that used to get in trouble a lot for what I was wearing I have to say :P to the people that comment on what she wears! They should listen more to the music.

  7. Agree with Lorraine — I don’t care what she wears. So long she plays the music well enough to keep me entertained :)

  8. I got goosebumps hearing her piano. Wow!! Thank you for sharing – otherwise I wouldn’t know. And agree with everyone. There are always people who need to criticize about something. And obviously her music was perfect that there is nothing to talk about her excellent music. ;-)

  9. Sissi says:

    Fascinating and informative post! It seems in certain musical circles dress code is very important and very rigid too. It reminds me of some other cases…

  10. Charles says:

    Wow, I just looked up the dress in question – it was certainly quite a bit on the short side, but unless it’s negatively affecting her playing people should worry less about what she’s wearing and more about the music – I don’t really have a favourite musician or composer – I love classical music though – it’s so beautiful and emotive.

  11. Sophia says:

    I do like classical music, but I can’t listen to it for too long…I fall asleep! haha!

    AAaah! Her skirt IS super short…Me being conservative, I’m tsking a bit at the length…because honestly, it distracts just a little bit from her music. You can’t help putting your attention to her skirt for at least the first moments…but if I were the reviewer the skirt would be out my mind the moment I hear her play. She’s fantastic!!

  12. Winston says:

    Oh my gosh, she’s so incredibly talented! I don’t know many musician these days so I’m glad you introduced her to us. I always admired people who played music because you can really tell that they have a different level of appreciation of the art (same goes for cooking, I guess). Prolly why I don’t actually have a favourite musician but I do enjoy listening to any kind of music though, classical included. Nice post…!

  13. Wow! She plays beautifully, and the Flight of the Bumble Bee is just crazy! :D I don’t have a problem with her skirt and shoes. ;)

    I think what people often forget is that, although somebody can be very talented, it still takes many hours of practice every day to achieve such a level of playing. (I hope I had more time … ;) )

  14. Maureen says:

    Very moving indeed. I try not to envy people who are beautiful AND superbly talented but she makes it difficult.

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