This was Yuja’s breakthrough

This was Yuja’s breakthrough


norman lebrecht

October 13, 2019

In June 2008 I was in Paris to replace pianist Murray Perahia. After the concert, my acquaintance took me to Claudio Abbado´s birthday. He introduced me to Abbado and asked if Abbado wanted to listen to a fresh CD from a talented young pianist. Abbado said, ´We may listen to it now for five minutes.´ He, however, listened to the whole track , which was Liszt’s B minor Sonata, until the end (32 minutes). After that, Abbado said, ´I want to invite her to play at the opening ceremony of my Lucerne Music Festival.´ Yuja then played Prokofiev´s 3rd Piano Concerto with Abbado at the Lucerne Music Festival in August 2009.

That’s ten whole years of skimpies.


  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Click bait.

  • Rob says:

    Talk about a dress rehearsal.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I cannot think of a greater contrast in piano playing than that between Murray Perahia and Yuja Wang. I do not mind attending her performances from time to time, but after a while her style of extroverted virtuosity becomes rather tiresome. At least her dress sense is not totally out of place in relation to her playing style. I wonder whether she will mellow as time passes?

  • The View from America says:

    Yuja Wang may skimp on the wardrobe, but she never scrimps on the musical artistry.

  • Stickles says:

    She was definitely not in skimpies at Lucerne in 2009.

  • Yuja has extraordinary competition but , she is the BEST! No argument.

  • PHF says:

    I need acquaintances like that.

  • V.Lind says:

    Actually, she didn’t always dress like this. The first few times I saw her — probably between 2010 and 2012 — she wore long evening dresses.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Acquaintance: I got a CD that you should hear, Claudio.
    Claudio: OK. I’ll listen for five minutes.
    Claudio: (Listens to the whole CD.)
    Claudio: I want to invite Yuja to play at the opening ceremony of my Lucerne Music Festival.
    Yuja: OK. Done.
    Yuja: (Kills ’em at the Festival.)
    Yuja: (Has a glorious career, wearing whatever skimpy clothes she wants, not giving a s**t about what NL thinks.)

  • Beth says:

    Does anyone else find it deeply disturbing how Mr. Lebrecht repeatedly talks about Yuja? I agree that her daring and provocative fashion is front and center, but there are interesting ways of discussing that part of her without the phrase “that’s 10 whole years of skimpies” Is this seriously how you speak of someone so accomplished and highly regarded? It makes me read everything else you write through distasteful lenses. Gross.

  • Karajon says:

    Haha… Hahaha… Haha hahaha.

  • Olassus says:

    Her Prokofiev 3 in Lucerne offered fluency (at one of three performances), but it is no piece on which to judge someone, other than on technique of course. It built no appetite in me to hear her again. My guess is Abbado heard in the Liszt tape enough technique to slot her in for a concerto he already had in mind to precede Mahler 1, which ascended to different heights, on a program he needed to take to Beijing the next month for money for the festival. (EuroArts’ DVD of the Swiss performances and a rehearsal, Aug. 11, 12, 14 and 15, has “Yuja Wang” in tiny letters on its cover with an explanatory “piano” by her name.) Accordingly I never did hear her again, until the new Berlin Scriabin 10, which seems to absorb her. The lack of love starts with her physical presentation and the way this capitalizes on the traditional clothes of on-stage colleagues.

  • hsy says:

    I would assume that whenever her breakthrough was, it came in the US and before DG signed her, not after as is implied here. The most commonly quoted breakthrough event for her was her replacing Argerich playing Tchaikovsky piano concerto no. 1 in Boston in 2007.

    Also, I’m interested in where you get this “first-person account” from. Because this is not what she said in her interview. It is not what the “acquaintance”, concert promoter André Furno, said in his interview either. Her account agrees with Furno’s account, but not what you quoted here. For a start, she did not go to their birthday party.

    “Ils sont tous venus dîner chez moi ! J’ai été associé à toute la carrière de Claudio Abbado. Il n’y avait pas seulement une fidélité, mais une compréhension, une connivence, une complémentarité extraordinaires entre nous. On n’avait pas besoin de se parler, on se regardait, on écoutait quelque chose et il savait exactement ce que je pensais. C’est moi qui lui ai présenté Yuja Wang. Wang est la dernière pianiste que j’ai découverte. En juin 2009, elle est venue remplacer au pied levé Murray Perahia qui était souffrant. La directrice du magazine Le Monde de la musique m’a agressé à l’entracte en me disant : « C’est un scandale de remplacer Murray Perahia par cette petite Chinoise en minijupe. » Le hasard veut que, quinze jours après, nous fêtions notre anniversaire avec Claudio Abbado. Je lui dis : « Il faudrait que tu écoutes cette jeune pianiste. » Elle jouait la Sonate en si mineur. D’habitude, on écoute quelques mesures. Il l’a écoutée jusqu’à la fin, il s’est levé et a dit : « Je n’ai jamais entendu une sonate avec un arc tendu comme ça du début à la fin. » Il a immédiatement appelé le directeur du festival de Lucerne, et lui a expliqué : « Nous devons faire une tournée en Chine l’année prochaine. On a Lang Lang, je voudrais le remplacer par Yuja Wang. »”

  • Daphnis says:

    “Skimpies”? Oh, for heaven’s sake, get over it! Ten whole years of extraordinary musicianship and phenomenal instrumental skill is what it actually is. Why this insistent crusade to reduce her to an obsession of male lechery?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Because she’s using clothing to draw that very kind of attention to herself. And she and we know it!

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    If she was already replacing Murray Perahia, I am pretty sure her breakthrough had already happened.

  • Dr Steven Johnson FLCM says:

    Yuja has relied too heavily on her sex appeal. Nothing wrong with that but she goes over the top. Yuja is a master technician and a great performer. She does however possess a very cold personality which doesn’t quite blend in with her professional status.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Absolutely agree with you. A very perceptive comment altogether. She did say she was interested in ‘girls’ in one interview I saw from NY. That makes the raunch culture more interesting, shall we say. Ergo, it’s not the MEN she wants looking at her!!!

  • Will Duffay says:

    Poor old Norman. Can’t get enough of Yuja’s legs.

  • Mostafa Keinejad says:

    Mostafa : Your playing is very charming and excellent.

  • yujafan says:

    Abbado had ears, for sure. Thank goodness he gave her the break, and that Yuja has had the sense to make the most of it since.

  • LP says:

    You obviously haven’t watched the video or you’d see that she’s not wearing a short dress in this performance.

    But that’s beside the point. ENOUGH COMMENTING ON WOMEN’S CLOTHES. It’s old, it’s offensive, and it’s seriously time to stop.

  • Brian says:

    Video unavailable. Nothing like geo-blocking to get your content out there.

    The CBC in Canada does the same thing, even to their next-door neighbors in the U.S.

  • Lorraine Silvers says:

    Did Yuja substitute for Martha Argeritch because Ms. Argeritch was I’ll?

  • Edgar says:

    As long as Yuya won’t skimp on the notes written by composers she performs, all will be fine and even more than that. As for myself, I’d be an enormous embarrassment wearing skimpies – ah, those days of youth, they are gone…

  • John Dalkas says:

    “Video unavailable This video is not available.” Same message directly on YouTube.

  • NYMike says:

    Before that, Yuja had played Prokofiev 2nd with Philly @ Carnegie with Dutoit conducting. The audience cheered!

  • NYMike says:

    In double-checking, I found her Carnegie performance in October to be a few weeks later. Sorry!

  • Steven Larsen says:

    Not for posting, just for you, Norman. Yuja’s agent booked her with my orchestra that spring to “try out” the Prokofiev, which she had never played. I think she was 16. She insisted she only practiced a maximum of 3 hours a day (I didn’t believe her), and in the performance she didn’t miss a note. I am a fan forevermore, whatever she wears.

  • Beth says:

    Here, I’ll tone down my previous attempt at a comment.

    I have been coming to this site on and off for years for it’s witty and colorful take on the classical music world. But after realizing that this site treats women who dress provocatively like that is the most important factor of who they are, I can’t read anymore. I find the last sentence of this post written to be disgraceful.

  • a colleague says:

    “ten years of skimpies…” what a snide, mysoginist remark.

  • Peter says:

    Who cares?

  • Stephen Gould says:

    Still, at least she CAN play.

  • Michel says:

    Frankly, she more sexy than Murray ! I understand Claudio. Life is to short to spend it whith some old white male.

  • Kevin Lenaghan says:

    I was at the notorious Hollywood Bowl concerto with the tiny orange dress, where she played nothing less than Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto. Her Prokofiev 2nd (also at the Hollywood Bowl) also blew me away, and I have head MANY versions of this piece (including my one slightly inadequate one).
    What really sets Yuja apart is her ridiculously precise, innate sense of rhythm, although she has plenty of emotional expressiveness as well.

  • Christian says:

    However entertaining and funny, the whole public image of Yuja Wang is a very constructed one. She could perfectly in a fictive comedy TV series, as “the star pianist with ballerina issues”. Now in the real world I would like to hear (not just see, but also hear) some more serious and less self-oriented creative output from her the next 10 years. I would love to witness Wang move artistically in the direction of fine pianists Argerich, Grimaud and Uchida (and not like Lola A with a huge self-inflicted mental wound.)