Two days after pianist Yuja Wang’s concert, and, sadly, what I remember best are the two skimpy dresses she wore.
By Susan Miron
At the age of 26, concert pianist Yuja Wang has been catapulted to the top of her profession. The Celebrity Series of Boston brought the admired performer to Jordan Hall on Friday night, and the building was filled with enthused fans. Her program was a good one. But this reviewer, like a number of others, could not get her mind off of Wang’s pair of skimpy, skin-adhering dresses.
Critics have been chided for emphasizing the visual aspects of Wang’s performances, and I imagine I could review the concert without making any comments on the strange taste of this fashionista. But I can’t.
The first red strapless dress fell somewhere between the knee and hip, accompanied by what looked like silver 6″ heels. The second outfit, seen in the photo below, is a similar white number, not terribly becoming, but undoubtedly memorable.
Two days after the concert, and, sadly, what I remember best are the two dresses.
That said, Wang is a fearless player. She’s got a huge international career and unbelievable chops, highlighted by spectacular speed and volume control. She has a career 99% of pianists must envy: an Avery Fisher Career Grant two years after graduating from Curtis (where her teacher was Gary Graffman), a Gilmore Young Artist Award (2006), performances and tours with dozens of major orchestras and many important conductors, recordings on Deutsche Gramophone. Her website raves about her “charismatic stage presence” and “interpretive insight.” She has important newspaper critics in thrall, rapturous about her wardrobe.
It’s overwhelmingly impressive. I might have been one of the few people who hadn’t heard of her (or who learned of her through the Celebrity Series) who showed up to hear her on Friday night.
Wang has made Prokofiev one of her, I presume, many specialties, and she opened the recital with his Piano Sonata No. 3 in A minor, p. 28 (“From the Old Notebooks”). A brilliant pianist himself, Prokofiev debuted this sonata, begun in his teenage years, in Petrograd in 1918, just weeks before he headed east, ending up in New York, where he lived for several years until moving to Paris. The excellent program notes by Aaron Grad point out that Prokofiev finished his circumnavigation in 1927, when he returned to the Soviet Union on a concert tour. In the next decade be became the only major artist to repatriate in Stalin’s Russia.
The Prokofiev was a good program opener, short enough so that by the time it was over listeners had pretty well gotten their minds off of Wang’s legs. She played this virtuosic one movement piece very well, relishing the composition’s humor, moodiness, and manic spikiness. Next was Frédérick Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Opus 58 (1844), whose third movement is a great favorite of mine. This piece was followed by Chopin’s beautiful Nocturne in C minor Opus 48, no. 1 (1841), and finally, Chopin’s famous Ballade No. 3 in A Flat major, Opus 47 (1841). Wang has the chops to play anything, and to go wherever her imagination leads. There were moments of real beauty throughout the Sonata and she brought moments of beautiful delicacy to the Ballade. Still, this is repertoire legions of pianists have made their own, and while Wang played with verve, I have heard all of these pieces played better, starting with Martha Argerich, who recorded a lot of Chopin when she was Wang’s age.
The second half provided a Diva Wardrobe Change and a fun, jazzy tour-de force, “Variations for Piano,” Opus 41 (1984), composed by Nickolai Kapustin (1937- ). Wang played wonderfully: I couldn’t help but think she would have been a great jazz pianist.
Finally, Stravinsky’s ultra-virtuosic “Three Movements from Petrushka” (1921) received an excellent performance. This is one of Wang’s signature pieces, and she played it thrillingly well. She is technically equipped to play anything, and it’s a good piece for both her and the audience, who went wild when it ended.
For encores, Wang played “Tea for Two,” arranged inventively by Art Tatum with Wang adding her improvisational riffs, and a formidably virtuosic arrangement by Vladimir Horowitz of tunes from Bizet’s Carmen. Wang had the crowd begging for more. The audience had gotten its money’s worth: she had showed off plenty of first-rate music making. She has the phenomenal technique, record company interest, and conductors’ backing to insure a long career. Although she was excellent, I probably won’t buy Wang’s CDs or attend another concert of hers. For me, the magic is missing.
Susan Miron, a harpist, has been a book reviewer for over 20 years for a large variety of literary publications and newspapers. Her fields of expertise were East and Central European, Irish, and Israeli literature. Susan covers classical music for The Arts Fuse and The Boston Musical Intelligencer. She is part of the Celtic harp and storytelling duo A Bard’s Feast with renowned storyteller Norah Dooley and plays the Celtic harp at the Cancer Center at Newton Wellesley Hospital.