Yuja Wang goes wild card

Yuja Wang goes wild card


norman lebrecht

March 05, 2020

The pianist has told Scherzo magazine, ahead of a Spanish tour, that she will not play pieces in the order that is printed in her programme.

In the booklet itself she writes: ‘In this recital, I will not interpret the pieces in the order announced for several reasons. The first is that when I listen to music lists, I always do it in random order. Another is that I want the music to surprise me and the audience, as if it were a box of chocolates. I also believe that every program is a living organism that must be in harmony with how I feel on that day and in that moment. Thank you to everyone who accompanies me in this concert, for coming with ears and open minds….’

Read on here.


  • Dee Miner says:

    Not the first time this approach has been tried. She could just dispense with announcing a programme altogether and on the night just play whatever comes into her head – then we might find out just how wide her musical tastes are.
    Anyhow, I admire her for stirring things up a bit with something other than clothing.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    That is fine. What I do not like is when some modern performers perform pieces interspersed with other things. In Australia Richard Tognetti does things like that a lot with his chamber ensemble. To be honest, most of what he does is not to my taste anyway. Also from what I understand Marin Alsop will conduct Beethoven’s 9th symphony with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, interspersed with Indigenous music. In Oslo on the other hand, they will be performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with Mahler’s orchestration. That would be more interesting.

    • Paul Pellay says:

      Not so long ago in Berlin, Vladimir Jurowski programmed LvB’s ‘Mahlerised’ 9th, and then rammed Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warsaw between the 3rd and 4th movements. Provocative, to put it mildly………..!

      • David K. Nelson says:

        Andreas Delfs tried something in Milwaukee with Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warsaw. First it was done “straight” as a concert piece with the narrator in concert dress and the male chorus standing nearby . Then without a break, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, followed without a break by a seemingly improvised mournful clarinet solo filled with plenty of krekhtsn (sobs) then without a break all stage lights out, and the same narrator returns this time, standing alone in a harsh spotlight as if being interrogated, dressed like a recent release from a concentration camp and wearing a yarmulke, and the Survivor from Warsaw is done again (the orchestra using stand lights), and his entire approach to the narration was now more strained, almost hysterical, as if an emotional breakdown would happen any moment. I no longer recall the actor’s name.

        A gimmick perhaps but it was gripping and got sincere cheers for Schoenberg.

        Not so successful was when Delfs mixed up movements from La Mer and the Peter Grimes Sea Interludes. Two great compositions and both seemed diminished.

  • M McAlpine says:

    This is fine as long as she sticks to the pieces which are programmed. I have been annoyed when I have gone specifically to hear a pianist play a piece and then that pianist played something else.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Good for her. This is also how 4’33” should be performed. Every performance I’ve attended has come at the point indicated in the programme and so there is no surprise element. In my world, it wouldn’t get announced at all, just inserted into the performance without notice. That strikes me as being much more what Cage had in mind.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    In his late decades, Friedrich Gulda did not provide any program for his recitals – he just played what he wished in the order he decided at the moment – some preludes & fuges by Bach, a sonata or a set of variations by Mozart, a Beethoven sonata, and definitely a Gulda improvisation. That is a risky approach – pianists with big egos can in this way destroy the musical experience – but with “Fritz” it was spontaneous.

  • LMP says:

    However, many artists, especially on Spotify, find themselves more often than not ‘buying plays’ or listeners and followers for that matter. Buy Spotify Plays

  • Been Here Before says:

    There is an article in the NYT today by Tommasini in which he reviewed both her and Trifonov’s recent recitals in NY. Apparently, she has already done the same thing there.

  • Karl says:

    “My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
    – Forrest Gump

    Maybe she could play the music upside down like Victor Borge did?

  • Scott says:

    A friend of mine heard Yuja Wang in Princeton two weeks ago. She played the program out of order. Apparently, the audience was confused and upset. He said that the audience didn’t applaud much and some people were angry. Her reasoning makes sense to me.

    • RW2013 says:

      Yes, I read that some did not know if they had just heard a Bach Toccata or a Chopin Mazurka.
      Says more about the audience…

      • Saxon Broken says:

        A somewhat snobbish comment. Most audiences will have many people (perhaps the majority) who don’t know much about classical music but enjoy going to concerts. Playing things in random order really does detract from their experience.

  • Ceasar says:

    So bold /sarcasm. Kinda defeats the purpose of a program? Maybe next she’ll play pieces in whatever order of notes she feels like.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    Why not announce a couple of major pieces that you promise to play, so the audience basically knows what the program will be. Then intersperse them with smaller items based on the whim of the moment?

    • M2N2K says:

      Who says “not”? If you like it this way, try it in your recitals! Itzhak Perlman has been doing that for most of his long career: “the rest of the program will be announced from the stage” or something to that effect.

  • Ms.Melody says:

    Not everybody in the audience is familiar with and instantly recognizes what is being played. If the artist doesn’t want to stick to the printed program they should at least announce to the public what they are playing
    It is a simple matter of respect and not assuming a certain level of sophistication. For some people it is their first concert.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    It’s well and good to make random program choices if you are well-versed in this music – but not so hot if you’re new to recitals and are not very familiar with individual works and want to know more.

  • Greg says:

    Meh. Maybe if the patrons are required to do a little research ahead of or after the performance it’s not an entirely bad thing and maybe we all learn something. If it makes her feel like each performance is fresh like a box of chocolates, I’m all for it.

  • F. P. Walter says:

    Back in the 1940s Artur Rubinstein — no less — dispensed with printed programs altogether and played as his whimsy moved him. Since he had an enormous musical culture and a photographic memory, nobody complained. Wang may or may not share Rubinstein’s breadth or grasp, but, like him, has a genuine stage presence and ability to communicate to listeners of many kinds.

    Hint for Ms. Wang’s consideration: Rubinstein announced his repertory from the stage as he went along.

    • Hilary says:

      Announce the repertory *after* the piece has been played would fine-tune this principal . The relatively learned/erudite listeners can bring a heap of preconceptions and I like the idea of being startled by the identity of what one has just heard.
      Similarly the building a library scenario/ Beethoven series on here would yield different results if the panel weren’t aware of the identity of the artists.

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    She could even do a Morecambe and Wise: play all the right notes but necessarily in the right order.

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    Correction: …but not necessarily in the right order…

  • Cyril says:

    She did this in Chicago in February. The recital got tremendous applause, but apparently some attendees were up in arms, not knowing which piece was which: Scriabin 4, Scriabin 5, the Berg Sonata, Mompou, Galuppi, etc. and sent angry emails to the Chicago Tribune critic Howard Reich, who wrote a column about it:

    Why piano star Yuja Wang’s daring recital raised some hackles


    • Hilary says:

      The Andreas Scholl recital recently at Wigmore Hall was an interesting case in point:Vaughan Williams segued into Berg and all kinds of interesting juxtapositions which also incorporated some dreamy piano pieces by Cage. Shorn of a programme I’d have been bewildered but in a positive kind of way. More of this kind of thing I hope,

  • Belton says:

    We attended this performance in Chicago and were very unhappy with the whole affair. We’ll not attend one of Wang’s performances again. Her performance skills simply do not compensate for her self-envelopment. It’s way too much about her and way to little about her audience.

  • M2N2K says:

    The program should list most of the pieces to be performed in chronological order of composition (Bach before Berg) and, if the performer wants to change the order and/or add encores, the title and the composer of each piece should be announced either just before or immediately after it is being presented. This should satisfy overwhelming majority of customers.

  • I don’t agree. She should remember that concert goers are not all profesional pianists but simple human beings who enjoy an evening out with their significant other. Things like this happen when when you get too big or too famous and start loosing touch with regular people. Bad for Yuja!!

  • Joyce says:

    Yeah Yuja. I love your style of unlimited creativityness. I am a piano teacher in Washington DC USA and we need a new piano. May you contribute one for the Young Scholar Musicians of the National Capital Region 202-744-4277 or email us @youngscholarmusicians@gmail.com
    Thanks Yuja.

  • Emil says:

    I’ve seen more than one ensemble go on tour with a long list of works printed in a program, and the mention ‘tonight’s program will be drawn from this list of works’ or something to that effect. How is Wang’s approach different?

    • M2N2K says:

      Her current “approach” is different indeed because so far she has been performing ALL pieces listed in the program – and frequently several encores too – so listeners should be far more fully satisfied than those in your example.