Mediator flies out to settle Yuja Wang and conductor

Mediator flies out to settle Yuja Wang and conductor


norman lebrecht

August 01, 2021

A mediator was flown out from London to the Riga Jurmala Music Festival in order, we hear, to resolve a difference of opinion between the American pianist Yuja Wang and the British conductor John Eliot Gardiner during rehearsals of a Mozart concerto.

In a video report here, Yuja refers to the conductor curtly as ‘Gardiner’ and does not sound too keen on his suggestions.

Still, she managed to get some time on the beach and the concert went ahead without further ado.

These things happen.

Watch the video here.

screengrab: Euronews


  • Paul Sekhri says:

    Any chance NL is reporting on controversy where there really is none?

    • John Borstlap says:

      My fly on the wall texted me – before it was smashed – that the controversy was about the acres of flesh Mrs Wang displayed in public space, expected to distract the attention of half of the audience at the performance, while the conductor had done his best to restrict such exposure to the absolute minimum as far as he himself was concerned, out of respect for the music.

      • Nijinsky says:

        I’m starting to find this narcissistic pretentious obsession with a girl that likes to feel the air against her skin quite misogynistic.

        The next step would be, if she gets raped, then it’s her fault, what MANY girls have heard from the rector of too many colleges and other “higher” institutions of learning, when they tried to report what happened.

  • Kairos says:

    And? What’s the point?

  • David says:

    What does “we hear” mean? What are your sources? This really is the Daily Mail of classical music isn’t it…

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    To pedal or not to pedal, that is the question. Surely, such decisions should be left to the pianist and not any – so-called or self-promoting expert on everything musical – conductor. Such interpretative matters should be discussed between soloist and conductor long before they rehearse together with orchestra in-situ. I wonder how much the mediator got paid for his trouble?
    I recall a BBC tv documentary on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and its links (apparently) to French Revolution songs in which Maestro ‘Gardiner’ didn’t seem to know one end of a French horn from the other. I rest my case.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    I’m not a fan of Jeggy. I am a fan of Yuja because she has talent and is truly developing as an artist. She has the right to play the concerto the way she wants. And he has the right to not have her on his programs in the future. I’m sure she wouldn’t want that anyway.

    • Howard Kiernan says:

      The old Viennese piano seems to have been a problem here, but with the possibly expensive help of the mediator they found an answer. I well recall hearing a college performance of this concerto where the orchestra seemed to be unable to coordinate with either the conductor or the soloist, and were about a third of a beat behind throughout. And for pointing this out afterwards I found myself unpopular. The problem here was nowhere nearly as bad as that.

      • tim mellin says:

        Or, in my own case, we had a conductor in Carmiina Burana who would cue the orchestra on the beat, and cue we chorusters on the downbeat. It was like an infielder in baseball being caught between ground ball hops.

    • Julian says:

      Yuja Wang gets my vote every time.

    • Karin Becker says:

      Above all, she has the more beautiful legs, Gardiner can’t shine with that.

      • tim mellin says:

        Okay since you started it….I was surprised her swimsuit is so modest, in light of all else. Never seen that type of suit since maybe the 1950s.

  • American?

    Is there a second Yuja Wang who is not the Chinese pianist we hear about so frequently?

  • Allen says:

    isn’t he the conductor who once punched an orchestra musician in London? I’m surprised anyone wants to work with him as he has always been so unpleasant (speaking from long time first hand experience).

  • Gustavo says:

    Perhaps it was racism?

  • PaulD says:

    These things happen. I recall reading of a dispute between Claudio Abbado and Helen Grimaud over the cadenza she wanted to use in a recording of a Mozart concerto. The two couldn’t reach an agreement and the recording wasn’t made.

  • John Borstlap says:

    That video is unwatchable, with this woman in her underwear & glittering high heels, talking about Mozart.

    • Karin Becker says:

      Yuja Wang is the “hey-guys-I-must-show-you-my-legs pianist. I am glad that you also perceive the soloist in this video for what she is: disrespectful and vulgar.

      • George Neidorf says:

        Disrespectful to whom?

      • Robert says:

        Pretty sure the original composers of this music were extremely flamboyant. Get over it, come into the future, she is introducing this music to many people who have complained for years that no one listens to this music. Now they do, thanks Yuja!

    • George Neidorf says:

      Mozart would have love her.
      You, on the other hand, don’t have to look at her.

    • Colin says:

      I would happily watch Yuja on any day of the week and twice on Sundays (no matter what she was wearing).

  • At least she didn’t refer to him as ‘the gardener’.

  • Mark (London) says:

    Well Eliot G shouldn’t be telling Yuji how to play. Stick to his own responsibility

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    The soloist is as a rule the leading figure. The prestigeous conductor is the one who can choose his or her soloists.

  • John Harmar-Smith says:

    Sophisticated clickbait, NL! But I trust Yuja on this one – no conductor should be trying to tell a pianist of her calibre whether to pedal or not… JEG is a talented conductor in some ways, but his Bach is often too aggressive and driven for me – there are several European ensembles who perform Bach with much more soul, insight and understanding…

    • Karin Becker says:

      ” But I trust Yuja on this one – no conductor should be trying to tell a pianist of her calibre whether to pedal or not… JEG is a talented conductor”. Sir E. Gardiner is 78 years old, – “a talented Conductor” is a choice insult. By the way, he will not have prescribed anything to the Chinese pianist, but at best given recommendations.

    • Hilary Davan Wetton says:

      The Amsterdam Bach Society for one…

    • Hilary Davan Wetton says:

      The Amsterdam Bach Society for one….

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    More intersitng : the new album of Yeol Eum Son about Kapustin. Fed up with the miss Wang soap opera.

  • Fliszt says:

    Gardiner doesn’t want a soloist – he wants a slave – a robot that he can program. If he wants a clavier or forte-piano player, that’s who he should have hired. But asking a whale to be a guppie as he did here is pointless.

  • Paganono says:

    For crissakes, Yuja, put some clothes on!!!

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    I could have mediated and then driven Ms Wang to the beach and put sunscreen on her back to make sure she was OK for the concert. No one asked.

  • HSY says:

    I’m quite certain Yuja is a fan of Gardiner, and she said she’s happy to have the opportunity to work with him for the first time in her most recent Instagram post.

    There is nothing to be inferred from how she refers to Gardiner in an interview, considering the unrelatable difference of what is considered polite between Chinese and English, which is not her native language.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    They especially happen with Gardiner….

  • Allan Kronzek says:

    Yuja is, of course, a Chinese pianist, not an American pianist as stated. As far as I know she hasn’t become a citizen.

  • Alexander T says:

    JEG sucks the life out of just about anything he conducts.
    One of the most boring conductors in the business.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Didn’t appear too much difference of opinion from the video clip. Referring to a conductor as ‘Gardiner’ is fine imo, as we refer to ‘Toscanini’, ‘Klemperer’, ‘Karajan’ etc..

  • Critic says:

    Yuja could conduct from the keyboard. That way you’d get a musical performance with only nice people shaping it.

    • Karin Becker says:

      Ms Wang wants to conduct in Lucerne, – the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is kind enough to give her and the audience the illusion that she has conducting competence.

  • Karin Becker says:

    One wonders who has this conductor and this “hey-people-I-must-show-you-my-legs pianist.” brought together. For Gardiner as a serious and experienced musician, Wang must be an imposition in her exhibitionism; as a Mozart pianist she has not distinguished herself so far either. Why then joint concerts? Abbado didn’t want to play Mozart with H. Grimaud after a few years and booted her out. Gardiner was probably more willing to compromise. The promo film shows a conductor in a tailcoat, the soloist is wrapped in a poison-green cloth and 75% naked. Great contrast.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      Claudio Abbado had Yuja Wang perform the Prokofiev Concerto No. 3 at the Lucerne Festival’s opening in 2009.
      The performance was recorded:
      Yuja gave a good account of herself (and not half-bad of Prokofiev), and Abbado kept things in hand with his customary light touch — but then, his was a tempered steel fist in a velvet gauntlet.

      So Yuja can be handled, and Abbado understood perhaps better than most recent conductors how to handle young up-and-coming soloists. If he couldn’t find agreement with Hélène Grimaud, this points to a fundamental divergence with her. Knowing Abbado, an unbridgeable *musical* divergence, not just a temperamental one.

      • KH says:

        Nobody “handles” Yuja. As for Prokofiev 3rd, her performance with Abbado was unmemorable, partly because it’s still her early conception of the piece, partly because the orchestra was not quite up to the task. Her best performance of Prokofiev 3rd, by far, was the one with Chicago SO, conducted by Oramo in 2013. She played a nearly identical interpretation of the piece with Berlin Phil conducted by Petrenko, except technically that orchestra was not as good as CSO and almost fell apart at multiple points.

  • Alexander says:

    Yuja looks interesting on that Baltic beach … Go gal, go … until you meet a seagull 😉

  • Douglas C says:

    You want real upset? Allegedly the first violinist asked Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli what speed he would like for the concerto movement – at which point Carlos Kleiber left the hall and got on the first plane back to Munich. As I say, “allegedly”.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      When I interviewed them, I asked both Giulini and Celibidache about their collaboration with Michelangeli. Giulini and ABM went way back; Celi and Michelangeli were friends, and shared many common conceptions and convictions about music. They loved his professionalism, his minute attention to detail, the depth of his knowledge.

      I cannot, for the life of me, imagine any member of an orchestra led by Giulini or Celi asking a soloist — not even a divine one like ABM — for instructions. Not without the gates of hell opening instanter. I cannot imagine Michelangeli condoning such disrespectful behavior, not for a beat. If anything, ABM would have got up and left without so much as a nod.

  • Nijinsky says:

    I actually find ‘Gardiner’ quite offensive in his remarks. It’s not opera, and it’s not prima donna stuff. Yes Wolfgang had to constantly write arias so said singer could glory in dramatics on stage – like one overly exposed Soprano I won’t mention (the first being one too many) is doing to such an extent God would have had to have given her a different voice, which the tension of singing with the one she was given, not really up to the task, she seems to think is expressive – but here Wolfgang was given the space to deal with his own feelings, rather than all of… [THAT!?]. The concerto is the expression of deep frustration, disappointment and anger; and and the release of that frustration into the serenity of the first theme in the second movement, and then the ebullient ending in the third movement where the second them of the Rondo is propelled into another world. He gave it back to the music, and to “God,” or nature…. Or the Universe, or the creative energies, and art itself.

    As if it’s just entertainment, and prima donna show off hysteria….

    I also find it offensive would he bother at fuss at Yuja Wang about how much pedal she uses, and whether the piano that’s not a hammer klavier sounds enough like what it isn’t.

  • Nijinsky says:

    I also find the regimented metered out conducting Gardiner does getting in the way of the natural movement in the music. It’s boxed in. It’s as if instead of seeing the natural flow of water, or of air, it’s all contained in little measured out enclosed structures. the music starts moving, and then we have the down beat of the next measure separating what just started moving, from how it would naturally continue. He can be thinking: “this is dramatic, or this is whatever and wave his stick around appropriately to ‘whatever’ and pull faces; but one has to actually allow the music to do that, not make something mental out of it.” The music needs freedom in order for the emotions inherent in it to blossom, to have some leg room. Maybe we should be happy, that given how he says it’s dramatics and prima donna opera stuff, that he holds back on what he otherwise would make out of it; but with someone like Yuja it can have more freedom, and the music speaks, rather than it’s possessed by someone’s ideology of it…..


  • R. Peggio says:

    Let us very please have piano transcription for complete Einstein On The Beach.

    • Nijinsky says:

      LOL! And a piano competition, to see who plays it the best, where upon they can all play at the same time, although they don’t have to start at the same time (or have the same tempo). Sort of somewhere between the first half hour or hour, or later, but if you start too late, you have to play backwards, unless you don’t want to, and then I think……

      It’ll do justice…..

      And to spare the cost of having THAT MANY pianos on stage for a competition, you can save bucks and have it in a conservatory (or music “school”), with all the doors and windows open, and it will sound like no school has every sounded, not even of fish.

  • BRUCEB says:

    I seem to recall Hélène Grimaud (?) having a bit of a clash with Claudio Abbado over which cadenza to use when she played a Mozart concerto with him. I wonder why conductors do that kind of thing (I’ve seen it happen once or twice in real life).

    • Jan Kaznowski says:

      Yes Abbado got quite nasty and in a subsequent London performance H.G was replaced by Mitsuko Uchida.

      Abbado once told Rafael Orozko to change the cadenza, also for a Mozart concerto after an LSO rehearsal

      Just imagine a fiddler playing Beethoven violin concerto with Abbado and suddenly put in that Schnitke cadenza reported recently on SD. Haha

      • BRUCEB says:

        As I recall, the cadenza she wanted to play wasn’t even a “weird” one, just not the one he wanted (or maybe he was miffed because she didn’t ask for approval first).

        In the case of the Schnittke, though: you definitely might want to run that idea past a conductor first, because — especially if you’re a well-known soloist — the cadenza is likely to devour all the attention from audience and critics, just like Kremer’s recording did. (Everybody knows Kremer made a recording with the Schnittke cadenzas, but who even remembers who the orchestra & conductor were? I can tell you, because after NL’s post about it I found it on Amazon and bought it… but I had no idea beforehand.)

        And — you just made a light bulb go on above my head — maybe that’s why Abbado didn’t want her playing an unusual cadenza…

      • Fliszt says:

        I recall years ago when Barry Douglas played Benjamin Britten’s cadenza for Concerto k482 – most unpleasant.

  • christopher storey says:

    The whole thing seems very strange . The excerpts from the opening of the Romanze show Yuja using exaggerated staccato ( which of course is nothing to do with pedalling ) which is not in accordance with the scores which I have . Whoever this idea originated with, it is a bad one !

  • adista says:

    I have to say aside from the clothes not quite sure what the big deal is with Wang. She seems nice and admittedly I haven’t listened to a huge amount of her output but I did listen to her Rachmaninoff 3rd and some of her Scriabin. Great chops for sure but musically nothing much stood out one way or another. Maybe she’s more compelling in other rep? Anyway, good pianist but seems to be mostly a creation of the marketing department. As far as Gardiner goes, who cares.

  • If only all of this was important, we could all enjoy a day off, eat, drink and make merry.

  • Pianist says:

    From the video: “He challenged me to not use the pedal”. God bless you, Gardiner. Eternity is yours for such a brave yet absolutely wonderful remark.

    • will says:

      it simply shows that JEG knows nothing about historic pianos. Two piano makers whose instruments Mozart liked and played, Stein and Walter, made pianos with a sustaining pedal operated by the player’s knee.

      • Marfisa says:

        “We also have to take into consideration how the pedal was treated in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was viewed as an effect for a specific musical gesture. It wasn’t a tool for legato playing like it’s used today… something that is being used the whole time one plays.” Daniel Adam Maltz:

        This was probably what Gardiner meant when by his ‘challenge’, and Yuja Wang seems to have understood, judging by what she says in the video.

  • Michael McGrath says:

    What a precious soloist. Rather than being a fashion queen and social media icon, perhaps she should focus on the music and serve her public? And if she indeed refers to “Gardiner,” then truly she knows not what she’s doing. Precious and rude? Of course, the other question is: Can she make music or does she just hit the notes?

  • Kent Lindsay Brosveen says:

    Naturally she wouldn’t like what he had to say with her hidesously overblown cornball misunderstanding of what music means. Witness the tragedy of her opus 64 no. 2 of Chopin. Just because she has a brilliant piano technique doesn’t entitle her to sophomoric musical tyranny. Kudo’s to Gardiner for calling her bluff.