Yuja Wang gets back to basics

Yuja Wang gets back to basics


norman lebrecht

April 02, 2018

A decade ago when she burst onto the scene, Yuja Wang was playing tough stuff that was not calculated to please an audience.

Now she has found an audience by other means, she’s going back to the tough stuff.

Look at this upcoming LA concert: Prokofiev and Scriabin sonatas, mingled with a little light Rachmaninov and Ligeti.


Yuja Wang, returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall, Tuesday, May 8, at 8PM, in a recital program of works by late Romantic-era and 20th-century composers:
RACHMANINOFF Prelude in D major, Op. 23, No. 4
RACHMANINOFF Etude-tableau in B minor, Op 39, No. 4
RACHMANINOFF Prelude in E minor, Op. 32, No. 4
RACHMANINOFF Prelude in B minor, Op. 32, No. 10
RACHMANINOFF Prelude in G minor, Op. 23, No. 5
RACHMANINOFF Etude-tableau in E-flat minor, Op. 39, No. 5
SCRIABIN Piano Sonata No. 10
LIGETI Etude No. 3
LIGETI Etude No. 9
LIGETI Etude No. 1
PROKOFIEV Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major, Op. 84
The performance is part of the LA Phil’s 2017/18 Colburn Celebrity Recitals.


  • Andy says:

    That looks like a good mix of works to me, I’m not sure why that wouldn’t please an audience. I’d be happy to see plenty of pianists give that recital, household names’ or otherwise. There’s some crowd-pleasers in there, some ‘monsters’, and some interesting stuff that you don’t hear too often.

  • Karen says:

    “Now she has found an audience by other means”

    She is not very smart at publicity, is she? She could simply use the Trifonov method of claiming to be “the greatest pianist of her generation” and wait for the crowd to flock to her concert to witness the genius “for the rest of our lives”, as Norman once put it.

    • Andy says:

      Did Trifonov claim this? Himself? That doesn’t sound like him.

      • anmarie says:

        No, Trifonov is modest in his speech.

        It has, however, been claimed in various ways by critics worldwide.

      • Karen says:

        The phrase “greatest pianist of his generation” or a similar variant I believe is attached to him by Richard Morrison in an interview he did with Trifonov years ago and was promptly picked up by publicists and concert promoters. And of course, as I’ve quoted, Norman claimed multiple times on this site that he is the “pianist for the rest of our lives”.

        • Andy says:

          So actually ‘Trifonov’s method’ is not claiming to be the greatest pianist of his generation, because he has not claimed it. As I thought.

          • Karen says:

            I did not say “Trifonov’s method” though. I said “Trifonov method”, a publicity method associated with Trifonov, not necessarily initiated by himself. Who in their right mind would say “I’m the greatest pianist of my generation” when there are British journalists more than willing to start a cult for him? And indeed to say so themselves would only have an adverse effect on their image.

          • Bruce says:

            Nice attempted save, Karen 🙂

            She could simply use the Trifonov method of claiming to be “the greatest pianist of her generation…

            You are certainly saying that Trifonov made that claim; it’s not a misreading on Andy’s part.

            If you meant to say “the Trifonov method of letting the critics proclaim you blah blah blah,” then that’s what you should have said.

            I do this kind of thing all the time; I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

            Better to say “sorry, what I meant to say was…” rather than claiming not to have said what you did, in fact say.

            (It would be like describing someone else’s annoying comment by saying “he could have used the Bruce method of explaining people’s grammatical errors to them in a pompous and irritating way” and then saying that Bruce didn’t actually do that — when I clearly did 😀 )

          • Karen says:

            Yes, I should have said “the publicity method employed on Trifonov of being paraded as the ‘greatest pianist of his generation’”. I apologize if my original statement caused confusion. As I mentioned in the previous post, the notion that a performer would say this themselves is clearly absurd.

  • David Hilton says:

    Might as well criticise the great Jean-Yves Thibaudet — uncredited in the displayed photo in his day-glow jacket — for ‘finding an audience by other means’ with his flamboyant style and grace. I think the variety of experiences that these artists bring to the concert hall is marvellous. There are plenty of excellent pianists. Let them each find their own audience free of typical slipped disc carping.

  • Rob says:

    Well, the finest classical pianist alive today is Cyprien Katsaris.

    You would be well advised to check that name out if you’ve never heard of him.

    • Andy says:

      You mean he is your favourite. He cannot objectively be pronounced ‘the finest’.

    • La Verita says:

      If Katsaris were the finest pianist alive, the great conductors would be lining up to engage him, and clearly they aren’t. His narcissistic musicianship was his undoing.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Hmmmm…that’s quite a statement, given that Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman, Evgeny Kissin, Marc-Andre Hamelin, and Yefim Bronfman are all still alive, among others.

      • Pedro says:

        Radu Lupu!

        • Bruce says:


          (I remember going to a recital of his many years ago… we went backstage to where he was signing autographs. The young man in front of us, who had been sitting next to us in the concert and whispered to his mother that the Janacek selections and the Schubert A major sonata were “boring,” asked Lupu what pianists he liked to listen to. Lupu smiled slyly and after a moment said…. “Well… myself.”)

      • Paul Davis says:

        A surprising choice, as there are some examples “less worse” than this! A perfect example of shallow-toned, superficial spatter-gun plonking with characteristic lack of understanding/incompetence of pedal use! (His pedal use very slightly improved in later years). The typical plonking down basses an octave wherever feasible, destroying all line, is already there. For circus-lovers!

        BTW, the piano is very easy to play “fast!” An artist would know better.

    • Paul Davis says:

      Anyone wasting their time checking him out will probably be treated to shallow-toned, spiky, spattery twiddling with the text of anything he touches; a real clown who’s had a sort of fringe “career” plonking when real artists are engaged elsewhere. Please don’t engage in this false, futile attempt at advertising.

    • Tony Sanderson says:

      Benjamin Grovesnor was highly praised in the UK’s Daily Telegraph yesterday.


  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Back to the topic. Not that the rep Yuja is selecting is ‘tough stuff’ but music evoking a particular mood as a thread. It is wonderful to see her exploring new avenues of repertoire, sound and character. These are the building blocks of a long career, and I wish her well on her journey. (Btw, there is no best. Sheesh!)

    • Bruce says:

      Agree. Ligeti is the only “tough” name on the program, but I find his piano etudes full of quirky humor. Soothing, however, they are not.

  • HSY says:

    Where would she be now without the classical media where journalists always insist only the music matters but mysteriously cannot stop themselves from devoting large column space to her clothes? Truly, she owes her career to your kind and unceasing exposure, Norman!

    I once read a Times (London) review of her recital where the entire article was a description of her clothes and shoes without any musical insight from the reviewer whatsoever. I thought Times actually sent a review from their fashion section. But no, it turned out it really was a classical music critic.

  • Db says:

    With all due respect, but this is an archetypical virtuoso recital programme. Ligeti études have been in the standard piano repertoire for quite some years now. I could imagine a lot “tougher”, more adventurous programming. But this undoubtedly suits her very well.

    • M2N2K says:

      We can all “imagine” such programs but in fact very few among the most successful solo pianists dare to perform programs like that. The recital by Daniil Trifonov in Carnegie Hall this week is definitely a rare brave attempt.

  • Knut Sjöberg says:

    If she would come to my haus, and play. I would steal a piano tonight….

    Any of you Gentlemen, say different….
    I will call you both lair and fool.

    She is pleasing to mein ears and eyes.

  • Russell Platt says:

    I take a more long-range view. Due to the efforts of pianists like Aimard, Denk, and Yuja Wang, the Ligeti Etudes are becoming standard repertory. I would guess that lots of young pianists are taking a crack at them. If you’ve heard the pieces, you’ll know why.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    There is zero variety in those pieces, only the contrast between Rachmaninoff (boring) and LIgeti (intolerable). She is obviously no musician, and without those skimpy dresses, no one would pay attention to her. Real artists don’t need gimmicks. I am sick of her. She degrades classical music.

    • The View from America says:


    • La Verita says:

      Zero variety? Really??? So, Scriabin Sonata #10 & Prokofiev Sonata #8 sound exactly alike to you? (WHO isn’t the musician here?) Pal, close your eyes and listen to her: I agree, her outfits (i.e., what there is of them…) are ridiculous, but this woman is none the less a VERY serious, outstanding musician, with a huge range of repertoire – all of it played extremely well. Within the last 12 months, she has played all 3 Bartok Concerti, both Brahms Concerti, Tchaikovsky Concerti #1 & #2, Prokoviev 5th concerto, Rachmaninoff 3rd & 4th Concerti, Messiaen Turangalia, etc. — all with major orchestras & top conductors – not exactly the track record of a light-weight.

    • HSY says:

      Luigi Nonono is just one of many who believe choice of clothing and stage manners are the most important aspects of classical musicians, but who nonetheless like to pretend they are “serious” about classical music.

    • Kenny says:

      Honestly without the crazy attire it’s doubtful she’d stand out at all, she plays just like 1,000 other Chinese pianists.

      • ANON says:

        Really? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuOunGuycT4

        Since Trifonov has been mentioned in this thread, you can seek out his version on Youtube and compare. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYAb2FeIlLA

        Even more remarkable he is hyped as he is now when there are about 1,000 other Chinese pianists who plays better than him.

        Also YW playing Mozart in 2001: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2hS2rJjk9Y

        • Anmarie says:

          Trifonov creates a rich musical world when he plays.

          And he doesn’t need skimpy dresses to do so.

          • ANON says:

            It’s remarkable you could say this after listening to that video. It certainly speaks to the power of proper marketing. Do you mean he creates a rich musical world by missing a quarter of the notes and plays the rest with a shallow, brittle touch in a disorganized mess?

            Of course he wouldn’t wear skimpy dresses. The way he dresses and his stage presentation are the biggest assets to his credibility right now.

          • Tony Sanderson says:

            Lang Lang wears flashy clothes on occasions. Wasn’t Liszt something of a showman? Check out his Hexameron for Six Pianos and Orchestra.


            I saw it at a concert once.

            Surely Handel and Mozart knew how to pull the crowds.

            Yuja Wanfg’s recording of Rach 2 with Abbado was best version according to BBC Record Review and her Ravel

            “On February 12, five recordings of the concert for the left hand of Maurice Ravel were compared on Swiss radio SRF2. Of course, the experts had to judge anonymously. The recording with Yuja Wang and Lionel Bringuier was selected as the best with Bavouzet / Tortelier, ahead of Fleisher / Ozawa, Zimerman / Boulez and Thibaudet / Dutoit.”

            Christoph Muller posted on


          • Paul Davis says:

            He doesn’t need skimpy dresses cos he skimps on the musical quality! His criminal massacre of Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a theme of Chopin, which he’s never been able to play properly in public, (variations ski(m)pped illogically, memory lapses, technical inadequacy, panic-stricken speeding….i heard it three times in different festivals, each time worse than before!), would have him dragged before a court of law in a serious profession. His murder of Rachmaninoff’s idea of redemption/victory/peace in C-major, by reprising the c-minor theme is equivalent to slander/libel and should be punished as such. But no, he can do no wrong, cos he’s good for marketing and internut idiots will follow anywhere….
            Of course the CD is competently played, well-recorded, etc (stitched together, as usual), and the Crtics have to give the thumbs up; must shift the stock somehow..

            Enjoy your rich musical world.

        • Steven van Staden says:

          Re the Liszt ‘Feux follets’ in your Youtube link, have you listened to Richter’s recorded performance from the 1958 Sofia recital? He’s up to speed, he’s light on the keys but also into the keys, there’s no sense of holding back, nothing is skimped, and there’s no sense of struggle. The music is alive. It sparkles.

          • ANON says:

            Yes I have. Amazing performance as you say. There were places that I wish he played better and I know he could, but Richter is Richter.

            I like his Moscow performance of this piece in 1958 better.

        • Paul Davis says:

          Marvellous, thanks for posting the link; i’d not heard this. I knew that Yuja had a special touch and feeling for Liszt already very young with her “La Leggierezza” -stunning, as a young, (11, 12, 13…? year old), player, before going abroad to study. This confirms her oustanding musicality at an early age.

          True, Trifonov’s effort is fairly feeble in comparison, as you say; a disorganised mess! But in today’s marketing world, he can do no wrong, and the mass of ill-informed, semi-literate internut idiots will follow wherever……it’s not that he’s bad, just not up to a trancendental level, and now overstretched, a victim of his own marketed success.

          Agreed about Richter, in the various versions.

    • Jaime Herrera says:

      NONONO, I agree with you. Yuja is talented and plays well (even if she smeared the Brahms First in an appalling fashion) but the skimpy dresses are a gimmick. I have seen photos of Yuja in CONCERT which are pretty shocking in that regard. Still, most people don’t think her fashion choices are a gimmick.

  • Alexander says:

    First when I read your head ( Yuja gets to basics) I thought she decided to wear long dresses 😉



  • Beetleone says:

    Another Chinese scamming, she just capitalising on honey old men and probably few young ones. For her classical music was an untapped market, unlike Kpop. So she’s wins hands down with that dress and voluptuous ass strutting after she playable piano. Never the with that hand skill she could do happy ending she to several guys tab once if she’s chose to run a Chinese massage parlour instead of classical music

  • M2N2K says:

    When YW appears on stage I can’t help but notice how attractive she looks, but once the music starts all I care about is her piano playing – and most of the time it is very good. As for DT, he is of course still a somewhat uneven performer, but at his best he is a uniquely fascinating musician.

  • Larry Diamond says:

    I find some of the comments about Ms. Wang truly disgusting and of another (1950’s Frat House) era. Who cares what an artist wears? It’s the playing that counts and Yuja Wang is a superb musician. I doubt that Dudamel, Tilson-Thomas, Nezit-Seguin, van Sweden and the list goes on, would want to have anything to do with her if she was mediocre. I have heard her play six times at venues that include Carnegie Hall, Verbier, Toronto and Seattle and all performances were remarkable. The classical music world has room for at least one excellent pianist who is contemporary and who brings in Millennial audiences. If not for youthful soloists like Yuja, there won’t be anyone in the concert halls very soon.

    • Steven van Staden says:

      With respect, and not for a moment to suggest that Wang is not as talented as many others, it’s nevertheless a sad comment on a section of concert-goers and CD-buyers that dress, youth and what some consider sex appeal are apparently factors in the attraction which, in such cases, is hardly a sign of discernment. These attributes are obviously seized upon by mass-marketers who make the most of them to fill halls and the pockets of those who fit the bill. I don’t think this is in the interests of music. Incidentally, conductors, orchestras and venues benefit by this marketing as well, so venues such as Carnegie Hall or a reputable conductor performing with a soloist do not necessarily signal some truly outstanding quality in the performer. I recognise of course that not all artists being promoted to the hilt meet these criteria or need to.