Yuja Wang on riots: Pianos can be rebuilt, humans not

Yuja Wang on riots: Pianos can be rebuilt, humans not


norman lebrecht

June 03, 2020

The pianist has posted a message about the looting of a Philadelphia piano store. She writes:

Human expression takes many forms. It has to, especially when marginalized voices are not being acknowledged, and are met with hatred and judgement. I hope you will look at this powerful image and recognize everything that it is trying to say to us.

Pianos will continue to be crafted with love and care, music will be shared to unite and uplift people during this time of crisis, and stores will be rebuilt, through the hard work and generosity of their communities. What we can’t rebuild or replace, however, are human lives. Those are the most precious thing of all, and we must safeguard the lives of people whose voices aren’t being heard.





  • Greg Bottini says:

    Beautiful comments, Yuja.
    I’m looking forward to the day when the coronavirus is finally defeated and you can get back to playing in public.
    Protests = good
    Violence = bad
    Human beings = precious

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Yes; and we need to extend the comments to apply to people all over the globe whose lives are being ruined: Rohingya, Uighurs, Romani, … the list can be extended a great deal.

      As Immanuel Kant said: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

      Like all categorical statements, this one can be contradicted: Bach, Schubert, … but when it comes to human society, it’s indisputable.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Dear Peter San Diego,
        I appreciate your comments re: peoples all over the globe. Yes…. yes…. and, sadly, yes.
        And you’ve really got me thinking about the Kant quotation. “Crooked timber”…. my heart breaks.
        There’s also that quote which I’ve remembered since my young days, whose origin I’ve forgotten and which I misquote and corrupt every time I think about it: “Humanity, so estimable in the individual, so despicable in the plural”.
        You are right to mention Bach and Schubert, but I’d also like to mention some geniuses who created deathless works while under the yoke: Bartok, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Schulhoff. And many more who I am unable to think of right now.
        All we can do is treat our fellow people like PEOPLE, with respect and compassion.
        I may be sounding like a broken record (I’m dating myself) on this blog, but at this point in the Great Human Adventure, it’s all about the Golden Rule.
        Best of luck and best wishes to you, Peter.

        • V.Lind says:

          Do you mean “I have often felt a bitter sorrow at the thought of the German people, which is so estimable in the individual and so wretched in the generality” ? It’s Goethe. or Graham Greene: ““One can’t love humanity. One can only love people.”

          • Greg Bottini says:

            Yes, It’s Goethe.
            Thanks so much.
            (Although given the selective state of my memory, I’ll surely misquote him again.)

  • Dennis says:

    Like so many, she perpetuates this false dichotomy between human lives and property, as if we can’t have the former without the latter and must choose one OR the other, rather than protecting both (and the implicit assumption that the latter is justified so long as it claims to be in support of some just cause as its cover story).

    Nothing justifies the rioting, looting, and destruction taking place. Period. #AllLivesMatter.

    • Bean says:

      To say “all lives matter” is the equivalent of someone’s child dying, and at the funeral as they’re reading their eulogy you go and and snatch the mic out of their hand and yell “all children matter”. Educate yourself please.

    • Joey Renton says:

      What complete nonsense you spew. Nobody is trying to justify the violence, but if you had to choose losing a piano or a life what would you choose? It’s a question about greater perspective. The fact that you reference AllLivesMatter says it all where you’re coming from. In the context of what’s going on today, you’re essentially denying the fact that structural racism exists and you’re diverting the attention away from the brutality happening to black people, and minorities in general, across the country. This is an obvious right-wing tactic and I’m calling you out. It’s clear you simply do not care and you are part of the problem that led to all of this. You’re attitude and dismissive views are shameful.

    • Marcelo Urias says:

      Her comments are very insensitive. As the owner of a piano store, I can assure you that that kind of event can be devastating. Regardless of insurance (which can be a battle in itself), your livelihood is all of a sudden taken away from you. I am in full support of justice for Mr. Floyd and hopefully new policies eliminating police brutality. But I won’t take lightly the pain and emotional trauma that affected store owners are going through right now.

    • American says:

      Dennis, I haven’t heard anyone justifying the looting and destruction. No one is saying we have to choose between human lives and property. The destruction of property is being done by a tiny fraction of the protesters. Hundreds of thousands are gathering peacefully to take a stand against police brutality. I saw one protester carrying a sign that said, “DON’T THROW THINGS.”

      Like others, I have tried to understand the motives of people who destroy property. There are many minority-owned businesses that have been totally decimated, which is obviously not the goal of these protests. It’s very sad to see what’s happening to our country. What I do know is that people who engage in such destructive acts are themselves broken in some way. I believe some get caught up in the moment, and some think they have nothing to lose. They’re so filled with anger that they see no point in trying to play by the rules of society anymore.

      I don’t condone misdirected rage, but I can understand it to some degree. In my mind’s eye, I see the face of a single mother. She and her two boys don’t have clean water, but she works two jobs and runs a tight ship. She’s committed to keeping her sons on the straight and narrow. They all go to church and sing in the choir. The boys get good grades and play sports. Mom teaches them excellent manners and tells them to always respect the authorities, because she knows that’s the only way they’ll survive. When things are tough, she just tries harder. She tells her boys not to be angry or resentful, despite countless injustices they suffer throughout their young lives. “Just a little longer and things will be better,” she says. They have a framed quote on the wall: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

      Mom and the boys do everything right. Then, in an instant and for no reason, one of the boys is brutally murdered by police. Rage begins to consume the surviving brother. He starts to have trouble with the law. Mom’s heart is broken. She worked so hard. Her beautiful boy was taken and now her other son is lost, too. I keep seeing her face.

      Our society is broken. That’s being reflected in our streets. For some people, it’s easier to be angry than sad. I’m beyond sad, for our people and for our country. I can only hope that we will rise from the ashes, more loving and more just than before.


    • V.Lind says:

      How much did it cost you to leave out the word “liberals” or “lefties” before your first comma?

      And re-read your last sentence. Are you quite sure about that “Nothing”? I think the rioting is appalling. I think it has got out of hand, and I suspect there are participants who have never heard of and certainly do not care about George Floyd. In fact people close to him have pled, a la Rodney King, for it to stop.

      But George Floyd is the latest in a long pattern of abuses. As has often been argued recently, there are also many cases of police brutality against whites, but the brutality against blacks is so egregious, and so excessive (as here) so often that the pattern has a distinctive cast. People are not pulled over, often abusively, for “driving while white.”

      Using excess force on blacks that cops suspect — or choose to suspect — is just the logical outcome of continuous suspicion and hostility that the system has bred, and allowed, since the first blacks were landed on the shores of America. And we know they did not arrive on African Mayflowers.

      I’m not clear on your former and latter. Are you saying you cannot have human lives without property? And after that your grammar lets you down — I do not know what you seem to be arguing. But I get that you object to destruction of property — as do we all. But you appear to disagree with Yuja Wang’s assignment of their relative values. Which is where I disagree with you.

      She would appear to have read, or at least understood, the messages of the New Testament. You would appear to adhere to a conservative interpretation of the Constitution.

      • HOMEWORK says:

        V.Lind : Thanks for your 5th paragraph above. Whatever the intention of the original post, I couldn’t make sense of it either. I decided not to comment at the time. But I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to be confused – in exactly the way you describe.

    • Not Dennis says:

      Don’t look now, but your white privilege is showing.

    • Brettermeier says:

      “Nothing justifies the rioting, looting, and destruction taking place. Period. #AllLivesMatter.”

      BAD unjust French Revolution!
      BAD unjust American Revolutionary War!


      Great, now I want cake.

    • Helen Wynn says:

      Absolutely agree. Well said.

    • Emil says:

      Wait, you’re saying that there is no difference between human beings and property?

      • Brettermeier says:

        “Wait, you’re saying that there is no difference between human beings and property?”

        Well, I gave up trying to explain the difference to my slaves!

        (And that’s why I hate humans.)

  • frank says:

    A particular nasty example of virtue advertising. Has she donated to help this small, locally owned business rebuild?

  • John G. says:

    Pardon me, but I doubt that Yuja would be so tolerant and empathetic if these same looters had come to her home, trashed her piano, and helped themselves personal possessions. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I doubt that she would maintain the same calm “human understanding.”

  • Pauline says:

    As a black woman who is passionate about the piano, this is sad but yes I agree piano’s can be rebuilt but human lives cannot be replaced. Yes of course all lives matter but black lives are the one’s being brutalised, disdained, disrespected, marginalised in a way that white lives in the U.S are not. Please don’t deny what is patently obvious.

    • David says:

      That’s just not true, though. “Don’t deny what is patently obvious”? Give me a break. Look into FBI stats and actual records, and you’ll see that the entire narrative is built on lies. The media pushes a certain perspective that doesn’t reflect reality.

  • Pauline says:

    This was in response to Dennis.

  • CA resident says:

    Every couple of years we are refreshed by looting images and we can’t forget those criminals.

  • Sacrifice Your Piano says:

    She should sacrifice her piano and have someone throw it out of her house onto the street. This is an artist who follows the politically correct brigade and doesn’t have an original idea in her mind.

    • V.Lind says:

      nobody sacrificed anything. Things were destroyed or damaged by looting. In response to a man being damaged, terminally, by another man kneeling on his neck while he protested that he could not breathe, and the kneeler’s colleagues stood by and watched as the kneeler choked the life out of the unarmed man on the ground.

      I fail to see what is “politically correct” in thinking one of these things is worse than the other. Or that a human life is worth more than a piece of property, a thing

      WTF is wrong with America and Americans? That they can think such things are all right as long as property is not damaged?

      • American says:

        V. Lind, from reading your comments on this blog, I know you are intelligent and well-travelled. I often find myself on the same side as you, and I’m generally grateful to you for sharing your opinions. This is not the first time you’ve asked, “WTF is wrong with America and Americans?” On another thread, you expressed befuddlement at Americans accepting Trump as leader.

        Many of the comments (and votes) on this site are troubling to me, as well. However, I believe they are made by people who fear losing their position of dominance in the current power structure. Such people cannot hear facts because they’re having an emotional reaction to their perception of reality. I recently learned about “court evangelicals,” who, among other things, don’t believe systemic or institutional racism exists. They also believe the Bible tells them that destruction of property is worse than racism. These privileged, powerful people truly believe they are the aggrieved party. They’re not unlike the three Nevada men recently arrested for attempting to capitalize on protests by turning them violent. These men have ties to a movement of right-wing extremists that believe a civil war or the fall of civilization is coming. What to do with such people? I honestly don’t know.

        You’ve lived in multiple countries. You know people are people. There are all types everywhere: extremists, agitators, criminals, idealists and activists. Please don’t generalize about Americans and our “perceived exceptionalism.” We’re grappling with something that has been brewing for centuries. The video of George Floyd’s murder was graphic proof to MOST of us that we haven’t progressed. As someone asked, how many weren’t filmed? I’m not proud to be an American at the moment. But I am proud of all of the Americans showing up to peacefully protest what you and I clearly see as tragically unjust. I know I’m not alone in my profound desire for change and healing for my country.

        • V.Lind says:

          Well said, and thank you. I have also travelled in the US, and had many American friends. I am a devotee of American literature and other aspects of its culture.

          So I know that “all Americans” are not any one thing. I remember that “Americans” helped bring down Richard Nixon when he was in clear breach of the law; American politicians ran that famous committee that was a demonstration of the best of American democracy.

          For a long time there was natural political difference between Democrats and Republicans, as there is with Labour and Tories in the UK and Liberals and Conservatives (and NDP) in Canada. Debate, argument, philosophical difference. But somehow — and I date this to the early 90s, though it may be that I only noticed it then when I returned to North America after a long time abroad — suddenly there was a nasty edge to political debate.

          I was used to the Sunday morning shows: now there was The McLaughlin Group on Friday nights, intelligent but very combative. (How tame it looks nowadays, after years of Fox and Bill O’Reilly and Hannity and their ilk). Opponents of Clinton were not just the other side; they were enemies, and vitriolic. In the 90s right wing talk radio became mainstream and commentators like Ann Coulter and showed illogic in the utter inability to accept that a Democrat could possibly want a good result for America, just by different means EVERYTHING they ever did was wrong. Along with Limbaugh and his crazed rants, the so-called Religious Right, which was so often the Religious Wrong, had TV shows all over the place, even as they blamed Matthew Shepard’s death on him and 9/11 on other gays. (They were nothing new, and their grip on Reagan was probably responsible for his criminally slow response to the AIDS crisis of the 80s).

          But that so many voted for Trump — and defend him still — is the frightening thing to me about America. That so many of his people come out to the podium and come up with rubbish like “alternate facts” and justify all and every falsehood this government enacts — it’s a long way from The Best and the Brightest, even from when we laughed at Ron Ziegler for “I misspoke.” The inmates really have taken over the asylum.

          There are so many historical reasons for all this, and a reading of De Toqueville (whom I fear most Americans would never have heard of and if they have heard of him would abhor because he was French, their sum knowledge of the French being…) shows it was there early. That sense of exceptionalism — I cringe every time I hear a leading American say the US is “the only” country in the world with “freedom.” Have they never even been north of the border? Let alone in all those countries around the world that enjoy all the freedoms Americans value, like the right to make a living, have a lawful society, associate with whom they like, plus the freedom to go to hospital even if poor and the freedom to go to school without the all too frequent occurrence of some crazy with a sack full of guns waltzing in — only to have his “right” to be armed vigorously defended over the caskets of dozens of dead children every year.

          I know there are millions of decent, thoughtful Americans out there. One can only hope that their day will come, and that this current nightmare of mediocrity and worse will end. If only American education would include the world outside, so that more Americans could learn that other societies are as good as theirs and often better, and that we can all learn from each other — not just buy from each other. When I was a child, I thought the American Dream was of some sort of beautiful society. I learned that it was about profit and property. Children did not dream of growing up to be athletes or film stars or astronauts, let alone teachers and doctors. They dream of growing up to be marketable.

          I hope the dream returns. Until then, we have the nightmare.

  • almaviva says:

    That’s all fine and noble with what she says, but I don’t recall her expressing similar beliefs when it came to the Chinese government’s genocide against the Uighurs or the Tibetans or the crackdowns on Hong Kong. Virtue signaling is quite a facile exercise when it comes to things like #metoo, BLM, and so on. But on serious crimes perpetrated by her (native) government, her silence is deafening. The struggle for human rights is universal, you can’t pick and choose which ones are worth it and which are not.

    • Fan says:

      How do you know she is not referring to events and entities beyond the current protest in the US? She doesn’t name any “bad guy” in her comment (as you did. It’s not even a rant (as yours is). Hers is not a political comment but a personal reflection – she writes from the perspective of a piano owner.

    • hsy says:

      Oh but but what about the Chinese government?

      Didn’t Americans invent the term whataboutism to describe Soviet “propaganda”? You’ve finally become the thing you hated.

    • Well Done Almaviva says:

      Fantastic comment. Very appropriate mentions here.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    She was then heard to say, “and finally those %^!& pianos are getting what they deserve, what I’ve fantasized doing to them since I was 4 years old”.

    • John G. says:

      She’s certainly free to destroy her own personal instruments. I think though that the looter’s wanton destruction of other people’s property is not winning many to their cause. . . . It might even be creating more Republicans.

  • Sol L Siegel says:

    Well said, I think.

    FWIW, Yuja was originally slated to play Brahms in Philadelphia the weekend that this took place, before the pandemic cancellations. But concerts can be rescheduled, too.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    USA is the only country in the developed world that resembles third world countries ( I have to acknowledge that France also have problems in relation to absorbing its ethnic population). The privileged and those in between have to live in enclaves to separate themselves from totally underprivileged sections of the society ( a sizeable population). An example to the world why full on Capitalism does not lead to attractive results. If we have to connect all this to music somehow, one may mention Otto Klemperer’s dislike of the USA for this very reason.

    • Nick says:

      Socialism and communism leads to incomparably much worse results and that is why so called “ethnic population” migrates to CAPITALIST COUNTRIES!! Until you educate yourself, learn understand this, refrain from childish comments!

      • Steven van Staden says:

        Exactly. The quality of life and relative freedom that attracts people to emigrate to the Western nations are now under attack by these immigrants. They can’t see that racism is not unique to whites. Whites living in black-majority countries face institutionalised black racism so pervasive and discriminatory that it’s comparable with apartheid. The double standards in reaction to police brutality are mind-boggling. During the ongoing lockdown in S Africa black police and military killed eleven people, all black I think (I haven’t counted them by race). No one inside or outside the country is rioting or looting in protest. Reverse the races though and it would be an historic racist blot on white police.

    • M McAlpine says:

      I note Klemperer did not go and live in the Soviet Block! He could have enjoyed the communist Utopia there!

  • geoff says:

    We were supposed to be in Philadelphia last weekend to see and hear you play. We couldn’t be there. But the #blacklivesmatter protesters were there. They will be here in Ottawa on Friday 5th June.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    “Pianos can be rebuilt, humans not.”

    Yes, humans are hopeless.

  • Nick says:

    Well stated, but we must “safeguard” the lives of ALL people, not only the ones whose voices are not being heard!!

  • M McAlpine says:

    These comments are all very well until of course it is your own property that is coming under attack. The black owner of a bar was not even able to open for business before his bar was trashed. In Virginia a building was set on fire and firefighters blocked who were trying to save a child from the flames – thankfully the child survived. Retired police chief David Dorn (77) was killed by rioters. Of course we condemn police brutality and what happened to Mr Floyd but I hope every decent person also condemns the brutality of the mob who trash innocent people’s property and put innocent people’s lives at risk. Of course lives matter more than property but people’s lives are bound up in property. If you don’t think so, wait till someone sets light to your or trashes the business you have worked all your life for. By all means protest but as a certain Dr King said, “Hate cannot drive our hate!”

  • sofar says:

    Philosophy for a penny…
    There is no excuse to looting because a black person was killed by a policeman.
    Churches are looted also, and so on synagogues.
    This policeman was fired and charged for murder. And so what’s later on??
    Are you waiting for another murder of a civilian by criminals and looters, just in name of justice to George Floyd??

  • Steven van Staden says:

    In South Africa we have looting and rioting which often can’t be attributed to any paticular cause.

    We lost a concert grand Steinway in one riot which COULD be attributed to a cause, an Afrocentric cause called ‘science must fall’ in which a university student spokesperson wanted to re-examine Newton’s theory of gravity and find an explanation in witchcraft of why lightning strikes the homes of blacks and not whites.

    A number of black people were brutally assaulted and murdered by black policemen during the local lockdown and there’s been no rioting or international outrage. I protested actively against white-on-black racism all my young life in S Africa. I’ve never heard blacks objecting to the reverse which is the norm in the new South Africa.

    I have long hair. Customs like to stop me especially to check for drugs. If I were black wih dreadlocka this would be “racism”. When all lives matter, all will be well with the world – but I can’t see it happening.

  • Greg says:

    What I see is the destruction of civilization. She apparently saw something else.