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June 21, 2010

Yuja Wang

This young Chinese pianist (she is only twenty-three) is indeed a phenomenon.  She is a tiny, fragile person with gigantic, powerful hands:  they would not seem gigantic on a normal-sized person, but on her they stand out, and the sounds they can draw from the piano are remarkable, everything from quiet, pensive tenderness to violent, crashing booms.  She makes the piano seem like a whole orchestra.

When she is playing with a whole orchestra (as I heard her do at the San Francisco Symphony last Friday night), she can both stand out and blend in at the same time.  In the marvelous Stravinsky Capriccio, she somehow worked it so that the piano did not drown out the other instruments, as it sometimes has a habit of doing:  we could hear her independent line, but only at the same level as we heard everyone else.  And it was delightful to see her play the Poulenc Sonata for Four Hands with Michael Tilson Thomas:  for once, her normally icy demeanor relaxed into something approaching collegiality.

But in her sold-out and much-anticipated solo recital at San Francisco Performances on Sunday, that icy manner returned once more, in spades.  She walked to and from the piano like an automaton.  She played the entire two-hour concert fiercely and concentratedly, without sheet music (and it included incredibly difficult pieces by Schubert, Schumann, Scriabin, and Prokofiev).  She only lit up, briefly, when an elderly audience member handed her a beautiful red flower--she seemed to like that flower, carrying it back and forth with her during her two encores.  The encores were terrific (a Chopin waltz and Scarlatti sonata), and so was the Prokofiev Sonata in A Major with which she ended the regular program; no one could have played these pieces better than she did.  But there is something wrong with her relationship to her work, or to her audience.  It is not that she seems to be from outer space--all great young prodigies, in my experience, are like this, and one forgives this.  And it is not that she beats the music to death in order to triumph over it, as Lang Lang does.  She understands all the emotions in the music and she gives them all their due.  But she does not seem to feel them herself.
June 21, 2010 10:34 AM | | Comments (0)

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