Yuja Wang: ‘The best motivation? When guys are being assholes…’

Yuja Wang: ‘The best motivation? When guys are being assholes…’


norman lebrecht

August 14, 2014

The young Chinese pianist, whose patience is as short as her skirt, opens a fascinating new series of Zsolt Bognar’s ‘Living the Classical Life’. It is a remarkably intimate and reflective self-portrait at the piano.

What will surprise people? asks Zsolt, a fellow-pianist.

‘That I have no boyfriend?’ laughs Yuja. ‘That I like girls?… That’s pretty dumb, the question.’

‘What do you want most in life that you don’t have?’

‘Lots of things. Louboutin shoes…. Also lots of feelings, a certain quality of life that I can’t have because of my lifestyle. I’d love to be on vacation for a year.’

She’s fabulously entertaining. But she goes very introspective when she talks about working with Claudio Abbado.

Zsolt’s interview website launches next week, when the Yuja interview will go on Youtube. This is an exclusive preview for Slippedisc.com readers.

Watch. Enjoy.


  • Mathieu says:

    Does she say “an electrician” or (rather) “on a vacation” ?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      You may be right…. I’ll listen again. UPDATE: You ARE right. That’s quite funny.

      • Brian says:

        Made me laugh, too!

        On the other hand, though, what a pity. I thought Yuja and I shared the same dream – that of being electricians for a year.

        I look forward to hearing her for the first time next month as soloist with Mariss Jansons and the fab Amsterdamers, and then in recital next October.

  • Andy Lim says:

    Actually I do hear “on a vacation for a year”. Or where was the “electrician” ?

    • Marya Berry says:

      I am sure, despite Yuja’s unfortunate rather in articulate expression, she said “vacation” & not “electrician”. Why would she say “electrician”, after all?

      • Sphygmo says:

        Maybe it’d be because she felt a Zsolt of musical and characterological electricity from the interviewer? (A Zsolt that’d presumably be AC, not DC.)

  • sdReader says:

    Was that a joke, about being gay? If so, I don’t get it.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Norman, you are patronizing little shit.

    • Zsolt Bognár says:

      That is extremely uncalled for–and there is nothing patronizing going on here. I hope the comment will be respectfully removed.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Other than making snide comments, for the 1000th time, on Ms. Wang’s wardrobe.

        • Clancy says:

          Yuja Wank doesn’t need a wardrobe, as the clothes of her complete collection are so skimpy they will all fit in a bag.

          • Mike Lloyd says:


          • Keen Ned says:

            You must be the wittiest scamp in Salt Lake City, Clancy. How sharp-witted of you to notice that YW doesn’t wear your sackcloth-and-ashes notion of fashion. You can stick to buying it for all three of your wives, for those days when you drive the buggy into town.

    • sdReader says:

      Let’s see. You’re mad because Norman got an exclusive preview?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      And you, Elizabeth, how would you describe yourself? Your email moniker is ‘sing for fun’. Doesn’t sound like you know the meaning of it.

  • music muse says:

    Someone should give her the advice that Branford Marsalis once gave to Kathleen Battle: “Bitch, just shut up and sing!”

    • anonymus says:

      If we apply equal standards here than your advice directed to yourself reads: “shut up and… well, do nothing”

    • MWnyc says:

      Not at all. Kathleen Battle was an irrational, nasty-tempered, unstable nutcase. Yuja Wang may be quick to dismiss questions she thinks are silly, but she is a personable, intelligent, cheerful young woman.

  • Ben Wolf says:

    Great, honest interview with a super talented woman!

  • Scott Jones says:

    That was a lovely interview. She is a very talented and charming young woman, her passion for life and music renews my faith in today’s youth. I’ve seen most of the great classical artists of the past 40 years and mark my words “Yuja Wang will go down in history as one of the greatest pianist of all times”

  • Violoncelle says:

    It’s great to have such a fun introspective on the life of one of the preeminent performers of the day! This young woman is a perfect example of the “it” factor. She undoubtedly can play, but what makes her such a super star is she knows how to market herself to audiences. If anyone has an objection to what she wears or how she presents herself in any facet of life, they ought to consider how they present themselves in their own lives. Brava Yuja, and bravo Zsolt!

  • michael palmieri says:

    Good interview. I ike the way it brought out the similarities between her “musical personality” and her social personality in the conversation. There’s this quick intelligence and a blend of wanting to reach out and wanting to pull back. Wish she’d played for a longer stretch at some point, the little fragments of different pieces made me want her to keep going.

  • yjtsui says:

    Fascinating! She’s surprisingly candid and unguarded. I wish all artists could talk about their creative process like this. I can’t wait to watch the full interview. The short passages of music tossed off so casually and with such ease are amazing! She’s a genius pianist and a bona fide star.

  • Peter Hobbs says:

    Actually, the series has been happening for about three years.

    See more at LivingTheClassicalLife.com.

  • Hank Drake says:

    I’d never seen an interview with Yuja Wang before, although I’ve admired her playing. She strikes me as a completely charming person – in contrast to the many self-important, pompous Classical musicians who constantly declaim the end of Classical music’s world as we know it. The negative comments from some of the commenters here say more about them than about Ms. Wang.

  • Jack Sinclar says:

    “I’ve seen most of the great classical artists of the past 40 years and mark my words “Yuja Wang will go down in history as one of the greatest pianist of all times””

    You might have seen them, but definitely not listened to them. To compare Yuja Wang to Richter and Rubinstein is like comparing Big Mac to Kobe beef.

  • sara says:

    she’s so honest and real.. this is a really cool interview

  • Sara says:

    She has s nice touch..
    Being honest and a bit shy brings out the human in her and I guess that is real and beautiful!

  • Rob Post says:

    Wow, what a great interview! Loved her in front of the piano fielding questions while riffing tunes. Can’t wait to see her live. She’s a much needed ‘breathe of fresh air’ on today’s scene.

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Lisitsa is fine, thank you for caring

  • Yojimbo says:

    I talked to her for a few minutes after a show. She’s just a regular person. I didn’t get any pretense. She might as well be the checker at the Wallmart. I think she’s high on music, not herself.

  • EC says:

    I’m a bit disappointed that instead of quoting one of her many rather deep insights, the title of this piece is about “guys being assholes.” Would a similar headline have been chosen for an article about a man? AND the article makes sure to emphasize her wardrobe decisions, which is just done to death at this point.

    Yuja Wang wears short skirts and high heels and she is ALSO a brilliant musician–that we talk so much about the former and less about the latter is plain sexism.

    Also, it didn’t sound to me like she was joking about being gay? It seems like a weird thing to joke about?

    • Nick says:

      If the public were talking about her wearing short skirts and high heels at the expense of her being a superb artiste, that would be sexism. Both go together – and I can see nothing wrong with that. I suppose you’d suggest that the media honing in on the fact that Jean-Yves Thibaudet often wears red socks and striped jackets on the concert platform is equally sexist!

      • MWnyc says:

        And you know what else? If male classical musicians had the same freedom and variety of concert dress available that women do, we’d be talking about what men wear onstage, too.

    • Marya Berry says:

      The title is a shame, esp as it doesn’t represent her deeper spirit or even a fraction of the essence of this interview. Then again, she did say it. So, you may wonder at the split level of her sensibility.

      I think she took the question seriously about her sexuality &, if anything, sounded almost as if she were gay. What would surprise people to know about you? “That i like girls?” Why say it if it has no bearing at all? Anything sexual is interesting!

      As for sexism, we are perhaps all guilty of it at times, w/o realising it. She is dressed to the nines, not to be unattractive, but to be sexy looking, imo. No insult to her. She admits that shopping inspires her. A bit weird? Not for her.

      That she can speak, apart from her unfortunate American nasal accent & repeated “Like, you knows”, so comfortably even about deep matter, is interested in the spirit of music & doesn’t even list being married amongst things she would like to do that she hasn’t done, all leave much open to query & enquiry.

      Who is this vibrant, somehow shy, tho’ outspoken pianist whose sensitivity, grace & intelligence are as undeniable as her virtuosity, high glamour appeal, charm, &, yes, say it again, sexiness? Nor does she repudiate her country, at least not directly. She is incontestably the hottest young (female) pianist on the planet & I wish her continued successs, some of her wishes come true, & a long creative life.

      I also thank her for all the exquisite pleasure her playing has given me.

  • lou says:

    I agree. She is very talented, and should be allowed to have her own opinions.

  • terry baer says:

    Yuja Wang is the reason the modern fortepiano was invented. Her astonishing pianism is surpassed only by her intelligence and humanity.

  • Ddennis says:

    I love hearing her perform. I’m amazed by her talent.

  • Peter Krauliz says:

    Yuja cannot be compared to Richter or Rubinstein, or whomever. She is a musical phenomenon with an unsurpassable memory and technique. My emphasis is on phenomenon! What is the problem with short skirts? It fits perfectly into our modern, sexually so much enlightened, age. To have fogeyish views on similar matters borders on hypocrisy. If she doesn’t fall victim to bad advisors or other bad luck in life, she will achieve greatness for certain.

  • Delph says:

    Find it is very sweet that she shared her thoughts and some of her experiences, it is not easy to answer questions sometimes but one tries one’s best. Beautiful music, expressive and alive. Also, about the dressing, I am so glad that she dresses according to her own style, moods and imagination and expresses her own personality. Good interview thank you for sharing :-)!

  • Kalikiano Kalei says:

    Yuja Wong possesses insights into the composers whose works she performs that other possess to a far lesser degree, so it would seem to me. I think instantly of her interpretation of Ravel and Rachmaninov; the passion seems to well up somewhere deep within her and comes out explosively as aeolian song in her amazing fingers. In an increasingly vicarious society, with derivative experience almost supplanting direct participation, Yuja moves in a world that many inhabit but few actually manage to tap directly into. Your interview provides more of that ‘direct’ humanity that lies behind the stage Yuja, behind the carefully promoted & ‘arranged’ persona that we see from a distance and behind the ferociously projected expectations of our own experiences (both with life and with ‘serious’ music). In the idealised (eugenically enhanced) world of the future that so many of us hope for, nothing would be more encouraging than to see Yuja bring more of her unique virtuosity to life in the form of her progeny. Music is indeed the universal language that draws the disparity of our ‘race’ together and Yuja (along with all others who possess similar gifts) provides hope, inspires optimism and generates belief for us all that the world can be a better place. Who, after all, needs religion, wealth and fame, when we have music such as that she creates as a unifying harmony? In my opinion, Yuja personifies famed English economist E.F. Shumacher’s prime directive (‘human scale’) in a manner that, perhaps ironically, expands that concept by an order of celestial magnitude! Thank you, Norman, for providing this opportunity for those of us who will be denied direct access to acquaintance with Ms. Wong to better understand the sensate manifestations of her unique genetic blessings and spiritual talents…

    • Marya Berry says:

      I don’t see how urging Yuja WANG (not WONG) to have children is a necessity… in particular, to her own happiness, which must come first. Let’s not be too greedy. If she doesn’t want children, let us not demand or require it of her. She is already bringing much beauty & humanity into this world, as you suggest. Isn’t that enough?

  • Tom Hoo says:

    The Big Thing of this interview was her discovery that when she is struggling to play, from this uncertainty/chaos comes the great performance – not when you have something down.

    Also, that practicing a piece once learned will make it worse. And learning how to re-learn a piece. Of course, this could be more related to how she is wired.

    Her clothing is right where it should be… Un-repressed and Glorious for a woman in her prime.

    And yes, Guys are Assholes.

  • Marya Berry says:

    Yes, to all the above, w the exception that guys are not always the anal equivalent. Good portrait analysis.

  • Scott says:

    She has this incredible gift. And besides loving what she does with it…it’s like she feels this responsibility to share it. So on some level she’s like a prisoner to it. And that’s where the sacrifice of feelings and time come into play. I love her openness and honesty. But you can tell there are many layers to her personality. I envy the lucky person who gets the chance to explore them.


    FINALLY, NEXT JULY SHE RETURNS TO THE CHICAGO AREA AFTER A MORE THAN TWO-AND-A-HALF-YEAR ABSENCE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Michelle Obama says:

    Yuja Wang (aka Yuji) is a Transgendered Pianist. Search for the New York Zankel Hall performance Feb 2019. The mystery of not dating and being anti-man parallels the “glamorous” theatrics. Skilled? Yes. The New Pianist of the Age? Not even close.

  • Lorraine Silvers says:

    “When I practice I make it worse”!!! Oh my oh my. Here is a Caesar. Whence come another?

    • Royden Chan says:

      Yuja Wang is a skilled pianist who not only interprets the music with sensitivity but also with feelings and physical emotion, unlike most of the others who are merely clever technicians playing like robots.
      In my opinion she is among the worlds best pianists – both the past and present; she is the most talented, attractive, expressive and sexiest of them all.