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The next Chinese star pianist is 9 years old. Prepare to be amazed.

February 28, 2014 by Norman Lebrecht

36 comments.


This is Serena Wang, whose debut disc will appear next month of Channel Classics. Read nothing more until you’ve watched this:

 serena wang

So we asked Jared Sacks of Channel Classics Records how he found her. Here’s the full story:

There is plenty of ‘young talent’ around. Especially out of Asia. Technically speaking incredible.  But when I had this experience of hearing Serena play it certainly goes beyond what we call normal.  How does one have this musical timing at that age.  How does the brain comprehend this kind of depth.  Like the spirit of someone speaking through her  (and, believe me, I am not a religious man!).
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I have worked a good deal through the years in China, making recordings, lecturing, demonstrations of Hi res audio.  Working closely with a Chinese enthusiast who has also been doing marketing for me.  This person got to know Serena’s father.  Her parents know nothing about music but saw at an early age that they would have to get her special lessons.  Serena goes to normal school but practices every day a couple of hours. Her parents do not push her in the least and are trying to keep her life as normal as possible.
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I met the father last year around this time.  He did not want the circus of the major labels so we talked about what we could do.  Last summer Serena came with her teacher, her mother and older brother and we recorded a project of composers who wrote piano works for children. Poulenc, Shostakovich, and some Chinese works.  We also did this Chopin to end the disc.  My son made the video.
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This is a disc geared to children, played by a child.
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serena wang
Serena has been playing the Beethoven 1st Concerto with Chinese orchestras and just played for the official Chinese New Years Concert in Bejing.  Her father and teacher only let her do a tour 3 times a year so that her studies are not being hampered.  She is however going to be playing with the Orchestra de Paris in October and has been asked to play with the New York Phil next season. On a whim she went to Tokyo a couple of months ago to take part in the Chopin competition there.  I am told she won.
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I made the recording with wet eyes.  The honour of getting to know her and being a small part of her life. I just felt the need to let others know.
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Chances are not good for child prodigies.   Can they overcome the bridge to maturity? The constant attention, the comparisons?  Can she become ‘worldly ‘  to continue to develop her musical sense?  Actually to me it really does not matter as for the here and now, she has already given so much.  I work with the best like Ivan Fischer and Rachel Podger.  But this purity in her playing does make music transcend over everything we love and care about. It is really that simple.

Comments (36)

  1. I can scarcely believe my ears and my eyes.

  2. Bill Dodd says:

    She’s just amazing! Close your eyes and listen. 9 or 29, she makes lovely music.

  3. That was an impressive interpretation. It’s just my opinion, but too many play the piece as if they’re trying to beat some land speed record. There were a few moments where I said to myself — “I’ve never heard that part phrased that way and it makes perfect sense.” She is lucky to have parents who love her and are not greedy.

    1. CK65 says:

      Just the way you phrased that, ” I’ve never heard that part phrased that way and it makes perfect sense.”, made me go back and listen again. I’ve never heard it said that way and you make perfect sense. I love it. It was like someone opening a door to a new view.

  4. PrewarTreasure says:

    So many child prodigies, and so many from Asian countries.

    The face of a young child, but the expressions of an adult. I often wonder whether these children are like ‘normal’ kids when they’re not performing.

  5. I am not usually impressed with so-called child stars, but this young lady has something very special to offer. A lovely sound, and an understanding of what is going on in the music.

  6. archer says:

    hope for the music of the west

    lies in the east

  7. Tsenoh Nam says:

    Remember that old 80s “Where’s the beef?” commercial? My question to robots: “Where’s the ongaku/umak/yinyue?”

  8. iStrings says:

    Well, I am sorry but my opinion is quite different.

    Firstly, I am absolutely against of any kind of “child-prodigy-making”. Besides that a child must be a child, I simply don’t believe that a child has the musical (or in fact any emotionally based, combined with physical development of the human body) ability like adults.

    It is also interesting with any such cases that first the technical perfection will be mentioned always.

    As formerly living, playing, teaching and knowing many musicians in an Asian country, I can proof that even “musicality” will be practiced like any technical element. Believe or not, if I play something for the student, he/she will be able to make an exact copy, including the “musical” phrasing etc. in minutes. At the end, I was always puzzled and couldn’t make a difference, if the student was just making a copy of my playing or it was real.

    Sounds like same here…, however, with some “unusual” musical phrasing, perhaps because of her still too small hands, but also how she was told to play.

    That she is practicing couple of hours daily, her parents doesn’t push her at all, going to normal school etc., is all my own decision to believe or not.

    And, I’m sorry but I don’t feel any special “depth” in her playing, it sounds to me just like any other technically perfect “music-machine” with a lot of business opportunity behind.

    By the way, super editing and syncing with the video!

    1. Jack Obama says:

      Nothing wrong with being cynical as far as you are satisfied with your judgement. has Just hope this child will lead a happy life and have a good future. I will not say anything but just wish her a happy childhood and a good future. I never allow my student copy my playing. A teacher should teach his or her student to think not to copy. If the students copy his or her teacher’s playing, it’s the teacher’s fault

      1. Tony Firshman says:

        Follow the video links when this video finishes. There is a long impressive interview with her teacher. He is clearly aware of the issues and comes across as very modest and human. It is though quite wrong to give her such publicity at her age. It simply must define her development as a person as well as a musician.

        1. Toni Tye says:

          The girl has not been taught only by piano teachers in China, she had master classes with several prominent pianists outside the country, most notably, Arie Vadi, Murray Perahia, Steven Kovacevich, Michal Tal and Yaron Rosenthal in Israel. They do not teach copying. She has also played with foreign orchestras such as the Vancouver Symphony orchestra. The conductors molded the music she played to their interpretations. There are always outliers.

    2. cabbagejuice says:

      @iStrings I am more in agreement with you, having also been around Asian musicians and having taught some of them. I also have witnessed how certain Russian teachers drill their students like army martinets. (When I got some of those students by chance, they were always looking to me like “What do I do next?”)

      A very revealing insight into the process is a video (“Happiest Little Pianist”) made of Aimi Kobayshi with her teacher coaching her at the age of around 11, playing the Pathetique Sonata by Beethoven before a concert. The lady was firmly behind her counting out loud how long the girl should hold a fermata so she would get it right. Normally this is a matter of felt proportions, not dictated to by someone else.

      She did incredible things from the age of 3 and there was the usual “her parents want her to have a normal life, yada, yada…”, Aimi also played the Beethoven 1st Concerto with the most difficult cadenza. As with opera singing moppets, one suspects they are not only imitating their teachers but one another. Upon reaching the end of the 2nd decade, it is a different story for wunderkinds who wake up to the hordes of intellectually solid musicians they have to compete with. Interpretation is the result of analysis and working through one’s personality not the carbon copy of the most favored recordings or a cut and paste of several (allegedly done by Lang Lang’s teacher for his Chopin Competition).

      The public is incredibly fickle and the singing or playing sensation of one year is quickly upended by the younger and more facile replacement.

  9. Petros Linardos says:

    “Her parents do not push her in the least and are trying to keep her life as normal as possible.” Hurray!

  10. I have seen a few prodigies before. They can certainly transmit an astonishing technical command of the instrument, but this girl transcends technique and communicates music. This is the first time I see a 9 year old perform with such musical maturity and integrity. God bless her, and her parents.

  11. EricB says:

    Yep, pretty amazing. Another “child prodigy” who seems to confirm her incredible talent, year after year is Umi Garrett. Watch and compare her 2 interpretations of Liszt Gnomenreigen at age 8 and at age 11…. (Youtube).

  12. Bcello says:

    I can only guess that Serena can imitate at a higher level than other child prodigies.

    1. Imitate what? I assume that she is actually playing herself in that recording, not Marta Argerich or Rubinstein, because that’s what came into my mind when I first heard it. Nobody can make music at this level by imitation.

  13. Tony Firshman says:

    This video is amazing, especially as she only just has an octave spread. It is very moving. I am puzzled though. If you follow the links to other videos at the end (‘The Lark by Serena Wang’ for instance), you find a clearly much older (11,12, or 13?) Serena. What exactly is being released by Channel Classics, and how old is she today? Certainly, if the later links are to be believed, not the Serena on the cover of the release.

    1. The cover picture was taken at the session which is the summer of 2013. She was 8 years old at the time.

      1. Tony Firshman says:

        The girl in the later videos called Serena Wang appears much older than even the Serena playing in the video.

  14. bazzaroo says:

    An amazing look at her abilities. Already there is an ease and a strength there which is HUGE and if she can successfully and safely navigate that awful period of time between the teens and adulthood, then we will have great things to look forward to. Remember the name – SERENA WANG!

  15. Anne S says:

    In the recent movie about Bronislaw Huberman, a music pedagogue whose name escapes me said :”There is no child prodigy without parents. It just does not exist.”

    While I certainly appreciate the talent and hard work of these children, i rarely if ever reach out to their music making for my own fulfilment. I also do not go to their performances. It is too painful to watch. No matter how “mature” their music making is, their brain is simply and objectively still developing. They should be allowed to do so in a less stressful and less adulating environment. Record producers and prodigy parents are not in it for the “musicality”, we all probably agree.

  16. William Jaynes says:

    Norman, thank you so much for posting this amazing performance by Serena Wang. I cried as I listened to it. This type of talent and sensitivity is not an accident. I have proven to my certainty (but couldn’t prove to you) that–despite the cynicism of out age–most of it justified–we are NOT just highly evolved animals but are indeed highly spiritual beings. Such talent is developed in past lives and thus can manifest fully in a present life. Despite the genetic similarities between us and chimps, there is absolutely no comparison between Serena Wang, et al., and ANY chimp.

    Thank you again, believe me I will share.

    William Jaynes

  17. lloyd bailey says:

    An amazing child, indeed! Almost an Aimi Kobayashi! (See her play at age four!)

  18. cabbagejuice says:

    For those not convinced of the innate imitative abilities of children, albeit some better than others, have a look at the latest moppet singing sensation on Norway’s Got Talent. And no, this 7 year old is NOT channeling Billie Holiday or angels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2da7N6ADm9s

  19. Abram Kreeger says:

    I really hate these sensational “discoveries” of the next “great ones.” The fact of the matter is that no one has any idea if this lovely girl will develop into a elite professional pianist. Right now, she is a an incredible girl on the piano – nothing more and nothing less. There are very, very few discoveries of pianists that were called the next great pianists before the age of 15 and that eventually became one of the chosen few. Kissin at age 12 in Chopin was certainly that rare example. The performances were great for someone 12 or 50. Those are the discoveries worth focusing on – and they are once in a blue moon. Helen Huang and Conrad Tao had similar, if not much more attention, than Serena Wang. I just wish the music critics did not use their incredible influence to champion artists who are still too young (in all senses of the word) and audiences stopped saying “you are going to be the next great one” – and instead, just sit back and wait to see how these incredible young talents develop. It’s much more appropriate to say that these young artists are a phenomenon and how great a young person can play so well.

    1. Yuzhen Jin says:

      I absolutely agree with your point of view. I am not a musician. I love the way you said it, ‘just sit back and wait to see how these incredible young talents develop’.

  20. chithra says:

    She Perfect….amazing…it is God Given gift..

  21. Rita D says:

    There is only one word to describe her AMAZING!!

    I just hope that her life will not be destroyed by fame like most of the prodigies in the past.

  22. Joan Gilbert says:

    The music I just listened to was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. Knowing it was playing by such a young person made it sound so innocent. The child has been given a very rare gift.

  23. The Pariah says:

    May Young Miss Serena Wang be judiciously groomed to bloom …… Fantastic Fantasie!

  24. Folke Nauta says:

    I do agree with the more reserved comments here. What I’m hearing is a very nice performance, certainly not matured but absolutely great for an 8-year-old.

    There’s a couple of reasons why I just don’t like about releasing CD’s by such young children.

    The first is: why would people buy them? Certainly not for the mature performances. I suppose they do mostly because of feelings of sensation or because the child is seen as ‘so cute’. Fair enough, but I dislike the idea of adults earning money on a child’s cuteness.

    There will be plenty of people who believe any ‘expert’ telling them that a certain prodigy is ‘the new star’, since they don’t hear the difference between his/her playing and mature artists’ playing. And no, a child simply doesn’t possess the emotional and mental depth of an adult, even if it seems so.

    A second reason is: by releasing such a recording, isn’t the chance just growing that the child is going to be deprived of a normal youth? Spreading her fame isn’t going to help her taking the time to grow. In this respect, I feel free to doubt the intentions of Serena’s parents. However modest they may be (and most Chinese appear modest), they could have waited with this recording until she was 12 or 15. Now gasping audiences all over the world will want little Serena to play for them, and major TV shows will invite her. It really is difficult to handle all that when you’re 8 or 9 years old. You just can’t be a ‘normal child’ when you fly around the globe for concerts, and adults all around you tell you you are a star, or the new Lang Lang.

  25. NAT says:

    She has a two brothers and a sister in California.
    I know them.


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