In defence of Yuja Wangmain
Our collaborator Zsolt Bognar has been upset by the griping of some readers at the Chinese-American pianist, her minimalist clothes and her flamboyant lifestyle. He has written this riposte to one of the sourpusses.
The day I met Yuja was the day I filmed a feature about her for the show Living the Classical Life. She entered, as joyful and grateful as possible, so willing to submit to a format of introspection and deep consideration. She came across as one of the deepest, most vulnerable yet strong, and sincerely kindest human beings we have ever featured. And there was no trace of arrogance or entitlement to any aspect of her life. Her deep commitment to her art and to her mission to share great music with the world was astonishing. We explored her work ethic, and the demands she places on herself. Hers is a probing spirit, always searching for new answers and deeper meaning, and one who is open about just being herself. You would also be flabbergasted by how self-critical she is.
Some people cannot seem to see past her concert attire. She loves these clothes and has fun collecting and wearing them. Many said the same about Liszt’s over-blown attire, ostentatiously decked out with all of his medals and decorations clanking together, his theatrics, his gloves that he would toss aside, his sex appeal, and his intentions. I notice that the most savage criticism directed at Yuja comes from a very specific demographic and age group, absolutely without fail.
You dismiss her as a loud virtuoso. When she came here to Cleveland for performances of Rachmaninoff 3 and Bartók 1, what astonished the audiences here, of all my musician friends, teachers, and colleagues, was the heartbreaking, even understated lyricism. I don’t think I heard the Rachmaninoff so arrestingly melancholic, and much of it even seemed at sotto voce. The Bartók was prismatic in its musical grasp and range. I have heard her elsewhere in the world, and am surprised by the sense of discovery and freedom. Her Brahms 1 in Tokyo was introspective and tragic in the very least.
Most of the guests I feature on Living the Classical Life do not keep in touch as friends, and that’s fine. Yuja became one of the most devoted and caring friends I have ever met, and this has gone on for years. Full of life and humor, she goes above and beyond to be there for her friends. But there is no need to defend her character or sincerity as a musician. What I am saying is that she is doing what she loves doing, fully and with great conviction, musically and in life. What is clear is she is a musician and human being who cares fully about everything. You didn’t like her Hammerklavier? Fine, go and listen to any number of others out there–the world is full of choices and the perspectives of devoted artists.
I do happen to know she was made aware of your comment. Look what you wrote–you made your opinion clear, but expressed it in appalling, embarrassing terms that only reflect on you.
Krystian Zimerman once said of the best criticism: for it to be truly perceptive, like a radio station the transmitter and receiver must be equally tuned. Otherwise, one perceives only the effect, not the cause. Sergei Babayan said of Glenn Gould: sometimes we play for listeners who are not present–our message is addressed to another audience.
Watch Zsolt’s Yuja interview here.