Yuja Wang: I was humiliated

Yuja Wang: I was humiliated


norman lebrecht

February 24, 2020

The US-Chinese pianist has offered an explanation on social media for performing in sunglasses on Friday night in Vancouver, an appearance that surprised an disappointed many in her audience. Here’s what Yuja writes on her Facebook page:

It is difficult for me to share this with all of you, but given the circumstances, and harmful speculation and criticism being shared online and elsewhere, I feel it important that the following is made public.

On arrival at Vancouver International Airport on Friday, I was detained for over an hour and subjected to intense questioning which I found humiliating and deeply upsetting. I was then released, giving me very little time to travel to the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. I was left extremely shaken by this experience.

When I was dropped off at the venue for my recital that evening, my eyes were still visibly red and swollen from crying. I was in shock. Although I was traumatized by what happened, I was determined not to cancel the recital, but to go ahead with the performance and not to let the audience down, which included my dear teacher Gary Graffman. I decided that wearing sunglasses was the only way to prevent my distress from being seen, since I wasn’t yet prepared to make a statement about what happened.

My main concern in that moment was to give the best performance I possibly could, and not to allow the audience to be distracted by my swollen eyes or visibly shaken demeanor. It would never be my intention to snub or disengage with an audience. Everything I do on stage is about connecting with people. My audiences and fans sustain and nourish me as an artist.

I am deeply grateful to Leila Getz and her team in Vancouver, and to the audience there with me in the hall for their support throughout the day and evening.

My recital tour will continue, and I look forward to bringing my program to the audience in San Francisco tonight, and on to New York.

Thank you to everyone who has sent or shared words of support during this difficult time. I know that I am unfortunately not the only person to have had this kind of traumatic experience, which has shaken me to my core. My heart goes out to anyone else who has, and my hope is that by sharing what happened to me, there can be a much needed conversation and change in protocol to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

This is the picture she appends.

This is a picture of her, taken on stage at the end of the Vancouver recital.

photo: Mark Ainley

And here’s an Instagram clip from the recital:



  • Max says:

    Wow, intense questioning for over an hour. Ever travelled to the States (where Ms. Wang lives) as an Arab? There you can experience intense questioning.
    And seriously, with the corona situation, having a Chinese citizen with that many travelling stamps in her passport, they would be crazy not to question her.
    I don’t want to say that I don’t believe it didn’t trouble her. But please, put it into perspective…

    • Andy says:

      It’s in perspective – she was upset, but she played the concert. And by many accounts she played fantastically. She can hardly do more than that.

      • V.Lind says:

        Yes — apparently she disappointed one (Tania Miller) but there is no evidence at all that she disappointed “many” — a poster on the original thread who was THERE gave a longish appreciation of the evening and reported plenty of enthusiastic applause, two encores and a wave to the audience. Not sure what got up Ms. Miller’s nose.

        • Steve says:

          Hopefully Ms.Miller has now learnt that next time she should just keep her mouth closed, she has already done herself enough damage…

      • Tausendsassa says:

        She did play fantastically —I was there—and it is abject nonsense to say the audience was “furious” or disappointed. Puzzled and perhaps intrigued by the sunglasses, to be sure, but angry?? One person’s entirely subjective reaction.

    • Nick says:

      There are a couple of perspectives here, Max:
      1. Yuja Wang is NOT a Chinese citizen, thus detaining an US citizen at Canadian border can and should be looked at as racial profiling, which, I am sure, it was on the part of Canadian Security people. So, Ms. Wang had the right to be at least upset if not more. Given her status she could also call the press, which she did not do. True, there is a fear of a coronavirus epidemic. But Ms. Wang did not arrive from China.
      2. An Arab should be vetted and vetted extremely thoroughly. The reason is: while coronavirus claims about 2000+ lives, Islamic Terrorism claimed already hundreds of thousands all over the world. It is infinitely more dangerous than coronavirus ever can dream to be.
      Thus, there can be NO comparison between detaining a famous American artist on Canadian border and detaining any Arab on American border. After all, the 9/11 was perpetrated by Arabs/Muslims on the American soil. Thus, the fear and the vetting is 100% justified, while detaining Ms. Wang is NOT!
      3. In spite of being deeply wounded at the border and upset, Ms. Wang proved again to be a SUPREME PROFESSIONAL! She went on stage and she played the concert. As far as “smiles for the audience” goes: neither Mr. Sokolov, nor Mr. Pletnev, nor Mr. Richter, or Mr. Gilels ever smiled on stage for their audiences. These are all great artists and nobody ever mentioned that they do not smile!! Should we consider the “smile” comment being in the direction of slightly sexist?!?

      • John Rook says:

        What’s more, Grigory Sokolov regularly treats his audiences to six+ encores. I don’t mind the fact he doesn’t smile…

      • Tamino says:

        Based on your “logic”, US citizens should be detained anywhere first of all. No other group of people has done more state sponsored terrorism in the world in the last decades, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. What’s the blowback by a few “stirred up Muslims”, compared to the trillion dollar war industry of the US! Have a nice day!

        • Ellingtonia says:

          Care to elaborate on these “hundreds of thousands of civilians” with unbiased evidence based on empirical research………or is this your usual weekly anti American rant.

          • Tamino says:

            Syria? (the insurgence directly stirred up by the US and “Saudi foundations” (old established CIA channel) for instigating regime change, costing innocent lives in the tens of thousands? A whole country in ruins?)

            Afghanistan? (a trap set up to give the Soviets their Vietnam)

            Iraq? (two wars. the first happening under ambiguous circumstances as far as the role of the US is concerned. The second clearly an illegal war. That war alone has cost roughly a hundred thousand people’s lives.)

            Vietnam? (why did the US get involved again? was it a justified reason? Gulf of Tonkin incident… anyway, a lot of innocent civilians died…)

            Death squadrons El Salvador, Nicaragua…

            etc. etc. etc.

            anyone care to continue?

          • V.Lind says:

            Cambodia? Interference in Chile in overthrowing a democratically elected leader?

            Bay of Pigs?

          • Bone says:

            I think you should review your definition of terrorism. But whatever – enjoy your socialist sh!thole wherever you are. MAGA and KAG!

          • Me says:

            Your understanding of the term ‘socialist’ is clearly limited to your ability to spell the word. Wake up and smell the covfefe already!

          • Agoldstein says:

            How about killing 200,000 people in Japan with two bombs in 1945?

      • Alvaro says:

        Famous? LOL!

        So I guess it would be OK for you to stop and frisk every white red-neck looking person trying to enter a high school in america since ALL (100%) of the school shootings have been done by white supremacists or nutjobs who happen to favor racial profiling and are perennially afraid of arabs, as YOU may understand. Right?

        Heifetz was attacked with an iron rod by an audience member who managed to reach him and hit his hand (which he used to protect his violin). He kept on playing.

        Isaac Stern is said to have played while there were bomb raids in Tel Aviv. He kept on playing.

        I guess in both those cases they had ran out of sunglasses.

        Wang is such a hero…

      • Carlos says:

        Nick: Yuja is a Chinese citizen.

    • Bruce says:

      Telling people they shouldn’t feel the way they feel is performing a humanitarian service. People need perspective.

    • John Kelly says:

      How do you know the interrogation was related to Coronavirus? You don’t because she doesn’t mention that. Believe me, getting into Canada is no picnic for anyone, it’s a miracle anyone goes there on vacation at all…………………the Voice of Experience. All she would need to do to induce “intense questioning” would be to say something stupid like “I”m here to give a piano recital” (implies paid employment)…………and the immigration officials are off to the races………….

    • Emil says:

      A few things:
      1- The Coronavirus thing you mention here is nothing but racial profiling. There are nearly 1,5 billion Chinese citizens – a tiny minority of which may have been affected. By the way, would you expect an Italian citizen to be detained in the same way?
      2- The fact that Arabs have it bad doesn’t mean that everyone else is perfectly fine and unjustified in denouncing unfair treatment. No point in ranking injustices as ‘the worst’ and as ‘acceptable’.
      3- Canadian border security are known for being intrusive and not particularly amenable. In many cases, it is as difficult, if not more so, to enter Canada than it is to enter the US. I have no difficulty in believing that Ms Wang was poorly treated at the border.

    • Karen H says:

      It is unlikely we would ever learn anything about this little episode had Lebrecht not made a big deal out of her sunglasses (the horror!). Really, who is the one who should put things into perspective here?

      By the way, is it a common occurrence that Arabs subjected to intense questioning at the border are scheduled to perform a recital in front of thousands of people a couple of hours later on the same day? If so, I must have missed that.

    • Calvin says:

      As lousy as this experience was, nobody is suggesting that Yuja is scarred for life. But it happened, unexpectedly, hours before a performance and placed in doubt whether she could make her commitment. Totally understandable why one would be still be rattled by that when it came time to perform.

    • Ping Hui Liao says:

      agree completely…. traumatic? pleazzz….traumatic is what’s happening to that Chinese tennis player right now….can’t believe someone at her level would be that delicate, surely she had music teachers that were far worse?

  • Ricardo says:

    It is all too easy for some people to be cynical about performers. Such characters generally have no clue about what it takes to be a performer, let alone one of international caliber. Regardless of whether one is a phenomenal player (like Ms Wang BLOODY OBVIOUSLY is) there’s always going to be some talentless and clueless imbecile who opines that one plays “so so” or one is not all that good anyway. Like the usual Carnegie Hall cognoscenti “I heard Horowitz last year, he was SO MUCH BETTER then (an actual quotation).
    Regardless of whether one can, indeed, be held longer than one hour at customs (I was also held for one hour at Canadian customs once, in 1997 – cheers!), in an incident like this my support goes, unconditionally, to the performer. Before you carelessly dish out commentary about the behavior of a performer (unless he or she actually spat on the audience or threw rotten vegetables to it) ask yourself whether you are able to play a scale on any instrument in front of 2000 people without trembling and whether you actually have the faintest clue of what it is like to be on tour, with people expecting you to be on top form in spite of the indignities of international travel. Players who operate at that level do so Because They Have To (I write this well mindful that it will be misunderstood). No fool would expose oneself to the pratty and rude opinions of ignorant characters, to the unbearable pressure of operating on first division or to the inhuman discomfort of constant international travelling unless one has to. And when one Has To, money (another favorite argument for the cynics) is not the motivation.
    I can’t wait for all the thumbs down for this comment. Someone even disliked my comment “we perceive our perceptions” the orher day. Sensitive lot around here…
    Have a nice day.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      I regret reading you long comment to come to your genial statement that “And when one Has To, money (another favorite argument for the cynics) is not the motivation.” In very stressing occupations, not only for concert pianists, money is the best pain-killer.

  • Paul Wells says:

    I’m glad the concert went well. I’m sure everyone did their best, including border service agents, who are instructed to screen travellers who have visited Wuhan, as this one did in October, two months before the outbreak became a serious public-health challenge. Of course I don’t doubt the interrogation that ensued was an unpleasant experience nonetheless. https://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/concerts/concert-detail/event-id/%2010042

    • Gina says:

      Are you saying she played in Wuhan in October, two months before the outbreak, and she was detained for that? perhaps they she thought she is contagious? People who actually had contact with others infected are placed in quarantine for two weeks! Not for 5 months! I agree that this was racial profiling!

    • V.Lind says:

      Well done, Mr. Wells, and thank you. I looked at her schedule back to November — missed this by 2 days.

      It would explain their questions — I am not familiar with travel inside China but assume her passport would only be marked with entry and exit to the country, so they probably grilled her on where exactly she went. If she said the magic word, they probably doubled down on her. If she hedged, to try to speed the process along, they might well have become quite nasty.

      These guys are not welcoming committees — though it usually seems so, or used to, as I recall from trips from Vancouver to Seattle and back or into New York State and back from the east. The Canadians were indeed usually very welcoming. (Less so at Montreal Mirabel or Toronto Pearson). American Customs was always practically hostile, even to a white professional as I was — there was always the sense that they thought you were entering their country to exploit them in some way.

      Her being upset is understandable, as she had done nothing wrong, but she needs to cut them some slack, too. This thing is in danger of becoming pandemic, and it is far beyond nationality (or ethnicity) now.

    • Karl says:

      Good point. Things are going to be tough with the corona virus spreading around the world. They still have no idea how it got to Italy.

      • Kate says:

        Through a small village in Sudtirol (Austria): one for the “rich.” Bergamo is just few hours away. HOWEVER: the first case in the “Western” world (outside China) was found in the US! That means, USA had more than enough time to prepare. Instead, fucking Trump lets his people die in the thousands….

    • Anon says:

      I agree with V. Lind – well done indeed, Mr. Wells. However I noticed there is no mention of her name in this link. Perhaps a vigilant manager removed it. Just in case, here is another link describing her recent concert tour of China, with the Oct. 30 Wuhan concert date identified. This would be a red flag at any border, for anyone of any ethnic appearance. http://yujawang.com/tour-through-china-with-the-wiener-philharmoniker/

  • Karl says:

    It could have been handled better. I went to a Kobrin recital when he was not well. Before the concert the ushers explained to everyone that he was not well and might not be able to finish. He played great though and we gave him a huge ovation afterward.

    • Steve says:

      But in this case there was no need to explain anything because surely she was going to ‘finish’, and who cares about sunglasses anyway (except Ms.Miller…)?

  • Pierre Fontenelle says:

    No picture was appended to her text post explaining the situation on FB : the picture you say she appended was simply her Profile Picture.

  • msc says:

    The sunglasses still seem like an overreaction and a mistake. I suspect that, f she had rinsed her face well a few times with cold water and applied her usual makeup, very few in the audience would have noticed anything. I admit I do not know just how upset she was.

  • William says:

    Sunglasses? Really? You’re getting all bothered because someone decided to wear sunglass to play a recital? Wow, do really in all honesty think that is even worth a mention in review of her concert? I’m guessing that you slept through the actual performance? Or just got offended because someone decided to wear sunglasses, frankly, I’m completely baffled by your attitude here. Certainly will no longer watch your pod cast.

  • Snowy Bear says:

    I’ve been quite badly treated by Canadian Immigration a couple of times (UK passport). The second time, the person I was speaking to was unnecessarily aggressive. Sure, it’s their country but I wouldn’t have fancied trying to perform in the immediate aftermath….

  • Mark Ainley says:

    I believe attributing photos, even if tweeted to you, is appropriate. The photo of her which you reproduced here was taken by me and should be credited, I believe. I’m glad you are at least setting the record straight.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    One must admire her for not cancelling. We all know of many artists, both of the past and modern, who were in the habit of cancelling at the slightest excuse.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    Neither a Yuja Super Fan here, nor a detractor. She strikes me as an excellent pianist. Kudos to her for going on with her recital after being given a hard time in airport security just a short time before.

    The reality is that even in a fairly small concert hall, audience members sitting more than a few rows back wouldn’t be able to notice red, swollen eyes….. Sunglasses, though – yeah, that’s going to attract attention, especially without further explanation from the performer.

    Probably would’ve been best if she’d briefly addressed the audience and explained she was rattled from just going through airport security heck, “And why don’t I start with a piece not on the printed program to get my head back into the music,” before launching into what sounds like a perfectly well-rendered recital?

  • Karin Becker says:

    Why this excitement about a young woman who – in English and cosmopolitan and certainly well advised with regard to her public relation – would also have had the opportunity to explain the wearing of sunglasses to an English-speaking audience.
    Miss Wang has to bear the consequences of her busy schedule: Claudio Arrau is said to have always arrived in the city where he gave a concert a day or two before the concert. If Miss Wang’s plans were similar, she could recover from real and supposed humiliations. But it is part of a high-speed music business – and it wants it that way. I have no sympathy for her.

    • Pierre R says:

      ça se voit !!!!tu ne l’aime pas ok !! elle avec l’agenda chargé qu’elle a ….. elle est surtout beaucoup plus demandée que Claudio Arrau ne l’a été de toute ça carrière …pour moi c’est la meilleur pianiste … on comprend que ça dérange un peu les piliers de la musique classique

  • David R. Moran says:

    talk about not being a pro

  • David R. Moran says:

    pls kill previous comment; tnx

  • Allyson says:

    She didn’t want to distract the audience with her red and swollen eyes, so instead wore sunglasses and appeared shaken up, distant and refused an encore? Riiiight….

    Yuja should’ve cancelled. And she definitely should apologize to the paying audience.

    • Me says:

      Why the hell should she have apologised, never mind cancelled? By all accounts she seemed to have played very well indeed, and all but one member of the audience got their money’s worth and then some. What else would you have expected her to do?!

  • Stan Collins says:

    The coronavirus is a very recent pandemic not yet understood by the medical community. Asymptomatic carriers are of great concern. Only lab tests can reliably determine presence of the disease. Anyone who has been to Wuhan and other areas where the virus is known to exist should have lab tests, especially if they will travel internationally. They can present the results to the authorities, thereby avoiding interrogation. This research letter from JAMA is four days old. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2762028

  • Greg says:

    Many could relate to Ms. Wang’s experience. I recall just after 911 I was in line boarding the plane for the Winter Olympics when I was seemingly randomly pulled out of line and searched. My carry-on luggage was opened and contents spilled out on the floor. I felt humiliated and enraged with the manner in which this was handled by personnel. This was a long time ago, but it is a reminder of what can happen in difficult times. I was so upset that I filed a complaint with the airline. Now we accept it as the “new normal.”

    Ms. Wang was not only upset with the incident, but possibly also because this could be a preview of things to come – more delays, more interrogations. She might be thinking that what was formerly just a royal pain and the price to be paid for maintaining one of the busiest touring schedules, will potentially become a living nightmare of more interrogations, delays, and missed connections. From that perspective, I could easily see how one incident could provoke an existential crisis: A difficult job made more difficult.

  • Plush says:

    Very disrespectful of her to wear the glasses. More the move of an attention seeker than artiste. I denounce it. In over 50 years of concerts, I have never encountered this behavior.

  • coronavirus says:

    The piano virtuoso has defended herself in an emotional response, explaining that she had been detained and subjected to “intense questioning” for over an hour at Vancouver International Airport, causing her to almost miss her recital at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.Nowadays, Covid-19 or coronavirus has completely changed air travel. All safety measures are taken by airlines and airport authorities to keep safe travelers and themselves from this deadly virus. It is recommended before booking a flight ticket; make sure you are aware of the status of the coronavirus outbreak in your destination.

  • Real talk says:

    Yuja Wang’s melodramatic, attention-seeking behavior seems even more absurd and self-absorbed considering what is happening around the world. Oh, so she was (slightly) delayed at the airport? Pity.

    Her antics are absolutely deserving of comment/criticism. The social media mobbing of Tania Miller? That was truly shameful.

    As another commenter sagely points out, perhaps Yuja Wang, Inc. should consider a less busy concert schedule. But the attention and $$ are hard to resist, for some.