At the age of 24, Chinese-born Yuja Wang is one of the most exciting concert pianists in the world. On stage, she cuts an elegant, sometimes provocative figure. Backstage, she's more like a teenager, noshing snacks and listening to Rihanna on her earphones. But there's no doubt that Ms. Wang, now a resident of New York, has captivated audiences and critics, from Beijing to Berlin. Her "virtuosity is stunning," says the New York Times. "An artist of dazzling genius," raves the San Francisco Chronicle. She's earned praise for her almost "superhuman keyboard technique," as well as her sensitivity and fearlessness.
We caught up with the international sensation in Los Angeles, where she performed Prokofiev at the Disney Concert Hall. Afterwards, in a Steinway showroom, Wang played for us and spoke with SOUND TRACKS reporter Alexis Bloom about her life as a musical nomad.
Born in Beijing in 1987, Yuja Wang began playing the piano at the age of six. From a music conservatory in China to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, she never stopped, and now she roams the world, playing a demanding schedule of concerts across Europe, Asia and North America. She’s recorded three critically acclaimed albums for Deutsche Grammophon, her most recent is a Grammy nominee. “I’ve been doing this my whole life,” she tells SOUND TRACKS reporter Alexis Bloom. “I can’t really remember anything before the piano.”
So, Yuja Wang is already a veteran, a self-assured and immensely accomplished virtuoso. But she’s also a young woman who travels the world, mostly alone, living in hotels and backstage dressing rooms. Is she ever lonely? “Not really,” she tells us. She’s “more alive” on the road, especially in concerts, plus “I have my blackberry, laptop andkindle. I’m all set.”
As you’ll see in her interview, Yuja is a warm, engaging personality with a quick laugh and a candid comment. She can be shy one moment, outspoken the next. When she’s warming up to play Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev, she likes to hear the raw wildness of Rihanna. And she’smade something of a reputation for herself in the classical world as a fashionista, not afraid to wear eye-catching outfits, including that orange dress that set off a wave of commentary last year when she appeared at the Hollywood Bowl. “I’m just being myself,” she says.
As the New York Times critic wrote after Yuja’s Carnegie Hall debut ast October, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it. What matters is that Ms. Wang has got it as a pianist.”
Yuja Wang’s website
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Yuja’s Rachmaninoff album
New York Times review of Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall