Why Yuja Wang can’t have it both ways

Why Yuja Wang can’t have it both ways


norman lebrecht

October 28, 2021

In my new monthly essay in The Critic, I examine the fatal fallacy in the Yuja Wang image – look at me, but don’t look at me – and how an artist’s self-exposure can wreck a potentially important career. Here’s how it begins:

Onto a stage bounds a young woman in a backless gown slit up to the hip, or a micro-dress cut an inch below the butt. That’s right, I’ve turned into a fashion critic. And the moment these words appear I shall come under a social-media onslaught for committing the unforgivable male offence of reporting what a female artist wears, instead of how she plays.

My defence is that Yuja Wang does everything possible to draw attention to her appearance. She habitually changes costume in a concert interval to show more leg and she feeds the internet with a stream of selfies in halter tops and skimpy shorts.

Tap “Yuja Wang” into your phone and you’ll get the full flaunty. Yet, under present rules of permitted speech, it is not supposed to affect our judgement of who she is and what she does. Well, let’s breach that taboo and see what happens….

Read on here.


By way of further self-exposure, Yuja had her latest promo photo taken by Geoffroy Schied a professional Munich photographer. Her caption reads: ‘When beach vibes and rehearsal vibes are the same thing.’

That’s the thing, Yuja – they’re not. You can’t have it both ways.

Can you?



  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Great article. If she were a lesser talent this would all be understood. But at her level none of this is needed and it gets confusing.

    • Anon. says:

      Great article? Another screed on her clothes. Music journalists’ attempts to fight for the relevance of their paying jobs are amusing to watch, but this is getting boring. It won’t save their dying profession, and we will all be better for it. If you want to know what “ordinary people” outside of classical music think of these music journalists and the damage they do to the “image” of classical music, here is a joy of a thread to read: https://www.reddit.com/r/menwritingwomen/comments/f8lxeh/a_review_of_classical_pianist_yuja_wang/

      As for Yuja Wang, the vast majority of the current famous pianists can’t play as well and with as deep an insight as she did when she was 14, let alone now. (There are five audio clips of her playing in a competition in 2001 on YouTube including a movement of a Mozart concerto and Liszt’s “feux follets”; if I were a pianist I’d be tempted to quit.) Her existence is further proof that music journalism is a scam. Even if she were to retire now she would be remembered as one of the greatest pianists ever lived.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        That last paragraph of yours in completely incorrect.

        • Anon. says:

          You want me to post links to compare the 14-year-old Yuja Wang with other piano stars in the same five works? It’s not particularly close.

      • kh says:

        Very well said. I also remember that a publicist wrote in her blog back in 2011 about how YW will be remembered for her clothes rather than how she did her actual job, or some such. Not so. Her remarks apply much better to the paid reviewers. Mark Swed, for example, will only ever be remembered as that moron who wrote a review on Yuja Wang’s orange dress and started this whole mess.

        • Karin Bekcer says:

          Well, it’s certainly not like that. YW deliberately chose a very short red dress, she could have chosen a more conventional outfit. But she wants to show off her body and attract attention. Mark Swed did her that favour.

          • Muffy says:

            I could wish she had more self-respect. I hope she has a driver and bodyguard to see her home.

      • Karin Becker says:

        Above all, one will remember – if only because of the many videos – the most naked of all little-clothed female piano players.

        • Nor Meyer says:

          Some will remember her dress. The rest of the music loving world will forever be captivated by her ethereal playing…

        • Grigor99 says:

          The music she plays has more notes in it than the threads in her dresses. Lol

    • John says:

      “You can’t have it both ways”. Well, when exactly did she say you weren’t allowed to notice or comment on her clothes? You are accusing her of hypocrisy by making her responsible for the arguments of other people on social media. That is classic sexism.

      Moreover, I’m bewildered that the article praises her abilities in Ligeti and Prokofiev but then goes on to say her playing lacks “soul” and she needs to devote her energy to late Beethoven and Schubert. Can other kinds of (non-Germanic) classical music not have soul? Any other worn out cliches you want to share?

  • Alviano says:

    As a gay man I find it easier to see past all that leg and back, but clearly straight guys can’t.
    The clothes are the package and can be discussed as such, but the music is the content.
    PS: performers say dumb things all the time. Just shrug your shoulders and move on.
    PPS: Your choice: read Wang’s dumb comments on Schubert and Mozart or to sit in a locked room while someone reads aloud the entire Twitter feed of Igor Levit.

    • Connie says:

      Not sure what gay or straight has to do with how someone dresses. This is her trademark. I look at her raw talent and that’s why she is so fascinating.

      • Paul Brownsey says:

        “This is her trademark” – yes, her trademark is to dress in ways that a straight man might well find ever so sexy (“Phwoar!!!!!!!!”) but that would leave a gay man cold. That’s what gay and straight have to do with it. Why doesn’t she just play to what a straight man and a gay man can have in common, namely, a capacity for musical appreciation?

        • John Soutter says:

          I am pure function: dehumanise me!

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Yuja Wang is doing this to herself, nobody else. Wang can control how people discuss her by comporting herself with dignity as a ‘fully clothed’ musician (metaphor intended) with gravitas instead of just another trickster prodigy who ‘looks good’ in the livery of grunge culture. We had Liberace for that!!

        • Jim C. says:

          Straight men are insulted by being so crassly exploited like that. None of us are “excited” about seeing her this way.

      • David Barneby says:

        YES, Raw Talent is the key word.

      • David Barneby says:

        The concert platform is a dull place to look at. Yuja Wang is a pretty, young girl with a beautiful body, her exotic, revealing and provocative dresses provide a touch of color to an otherwise dull stage set, she is dead sexy, I don’t find her nakedness the least bit distracting once her fingers reach the keys.

    • Anonymous says:

      Same here (gay man). But I agree with Lebrecht’s point that she’s drawing so much attention to herself. Technically, she is so gifted as a pianist, but I don’t find a lot of depth to many of her interpretations. My question is whether she will still be scantilly clad in her 40’s and 50’s? Will enough people be going back to see her for her music? That’s a risk she is taking. Flesh is temporary. I also think of Khatia Buniatishvilli’s comment in an interview, “I would rather die young and beautiful.” I wanted to throw up. With a mindset like that, the career at least should die young.

      I would be saying the same if there was a male pianist that was devastatingly handsome, but had nothing of substance to offer. I’m a pianist, and I’m there to hear great performances, nothing else.

      • Alon says:

        She is perhaps the most technically efficient I’ve ever witnessed however, as in her choices of costumery lacking in having life’s adult respectful choices thus her interpretive motives may or probably not grow into classical adulthood.

      • Cfprcy says:

        As a straight woman I find her attires irritating. Probably she’ll change her style when she ages. It’s the music that count, for men and women, beautiful or ugly.

        • John Borstlap says:

          It is not entirely impossible that she will, when getting older, want to shock the concert world with performing in a burka.

        • Jim C. says:

          As a straight man I find her attire irritating. Unless she’s personally inviting me over after the show, she should bother someone else.

          • Eye Roll McGee says:

            Oh right right riiiight of course! Because women only dress this way to provoke men into fucking them, and if they’re going to dress that way and NOT put out, then they’re cockteases. Gimme a break.

          • K.A. says:

            Thank you McGee, well said!

            And for all the women who cannot appreciate a beautiful, talented woman, please ask yourself if its not a tad of jealousy you are feeling.

      • Antonia says:

        Wang has publicly stayed she may retire soon. In that case, her waning looks won’t be an issue.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        We live in the Age of Narcissism. End of story.

      • HugoPreuss says:

        Would we take Angela Merkel or Kamala Harris seriously in a similar outfit? Or, for that matter, Joe Biden or Justin Trudeau in a male equivalent? Would we take a professor giving a lecture (regardless of male or female) seriously? A doctor who is about to operate on you? Why should we expect less from an artist? There is attire suitable for the beach or for a dance club. They are not the same as attire suitable for a serious and earnest profession.

        • Anon. says:

          Because music journalists have been harping for years (decades) how looks and marketing have become more important than musical ability. They whine only the music should matter. Well, as it turns out they have been posturing all along, because suddenly when it comes to Yuja Wang musical ability is not enough for them after all.

        • Alank says:

          Who could take Kamala Harris seriously regardless of her attire? Same for the glamour boy of Canada.

          • Morgan says:

            Ah, the gods, you’re one of those.

          • HugoPreuss says:

            Trudeau is the Prime Minister and Kamala Harris is Vice President of the United States, in case you did not know. People who are habitually taken seriously, due to their offices.

            Would it suit your political sensibilities better if I used the names Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, or (God forbid, given the attire) Donald Trump? The argument remains the same.

  • japecake says:

    For those who would deem exploring this issue as mere sexism, ask yourself this: How would your impression of, say, the Jussen brothers’ artistry be colored if they performed in tank tops and short shorts? Gustavo Dudamel in spandex? Joshua Bell in a belly shirt? But that doesn’t happen. Is a classical musician whose trademark and—ugh—”brand” is so obviously calculated and associated with choice of attire and sex appeal really putting the music first? Did Argerich, de Laroccha, Uchida ever have to do this?

    • John Borstlap says:

      But it goes back to times immemorial. Beethoven wore a long wide-standing hairdo to make his symphonies better understood, Mozart giggled while conducting Figaro so that the nature of the work came across, and Lully stamped lethally on his foot to be sure not to be forgotten by posterity.

    • Ornella V. says:

      “Gustavo Dudamel in spandex? Joshua Bell in a belly shirt?” Finally programs worthy of female spectators!!!! Where can I buy my tickets?????

    • Ornella V. says:

      “Gustavo Dudamel in spandex? Joshua Bell in a belly shirt?” Finally programs worthy of female spectators!!! Where can I buy tickets?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      The Jussen Brothers: absolutely gorgeous, talented AND classy.

    • Morgan says:

      Sorry, but what a naive set of points.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    I’m inclined to agree with you, NL, although it’s perhaps a little ageist to set a threshold of 40.

    On the other hand, perhaps people are coming to look and staying to hear. That broadening of the appeal of classical music is no bad thing, although it speaks sadly of society that such an approach is effective.

  • japecake says:

    Compare, absurdly, Kyrsten Sinema showing up to preside over the U.S. Senate, America’s “Temple of Democracy,” in a denim vest, like she got dropped off at work by a Hell’s Angel. I can’t recall any other senators ever showing up to preside in blue jeans or board shorts.

    • PS says:

      No horses in our Senate yet but we’re almost there.

    • Connie says:

      Seriously? How many concert pianists get followed into a bathroom stall to harass them? Why is this site political?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Read my lips: it’s called EN-TITLE-MENT.

    • Jim C. says:

      Well there’s clearly something wrong with her. She’s way over her head there and visibly falling apart.

    • K.A. says:

      …Right, and Bobert in her smart conservative dress and glasses with automatic weapons in the background of her zoom sessions!…please. Close your eyes and listen to the music. As far as I remember, we still live in a democracy. Ya don’t like her appearance, buy her CD and stay home.

  • Nijinsky says:

    I really think it’s her personality, that in the beginning she happened to decide to wear something that people found too revealing, and then had to deal with whether she would allow such thoughts to influence her; and so it’s not about whether she’s provoking people with her body, it’s simply the choice to do something people are going to fuss about that she’s not interested in making a concern of hers.

    I can’t say that her Mozart is superficial. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Tfs3MIVVEM

    And I find suddenly a reference by a “Freudian” writer with their profiling remark that she notes a tendency to “depression,” in Yuja quite remarkably incoherent, other than it’s fodder for people having something on another who dares to say something or do something beyond the boundaries others have set up as limitations.

    Because she said: “If the music is beautiful and sensual, why not dress to fit?” and “It’s about power and persuasion. Perhaps it’s a little sadomasochistic of me. But if I’m going to get naked with my music, I may as well be comfortable while I’m at it.”

    In contrast I don’t think the recipe that’s meant to make her have more depth isn’t about image, which exactly is what she’s repairing in her mind by not being deterred when people can’t listen to the music when she’s not decorated properly according to them. Nor is playing music she doesn’t feel ready for yet, although it’s supposed to give her image would she prematurely.

  • Piano Lover says:

    Very good article.
    I am not worried about Yuja’s dressing code.Look at Khatia Buniatishvili ‘décolleté”” or anna Fedorova…in Rachmaninov PC n°1.These ladies dress like going to an invitation.We can’t blame them for that .

  • John Borstlap says:

    The photo shows Ms Wang practicing her upcoming on the stage in a new outfit. It is part of the show.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, sadly her performances are now morphing into ‘shows’. Such a pity but I’m guessing that, having spent her life in a lonely practice room perfecting her art, she’s suddenly behaving like the teenager who missed that stage in life. You see this a lot in certain professions; head down, study and seriousness only to revert to the teenage schtick once the economic security is in place in adulthood.

  • Brian says:

    Enjoyed the column. My sense is that she’s reclaiming a bygone history of showman-like performers who also delivered the goods artistically, such as Paganini or Liszt.

    I’m inclined to agree, though, that at 34, there is a looming sell-by date on her choice of outfits. Not that she can’t wear whatever she wants (and she looks great) but we all learn to dress our age. We shall see.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Age has a nasty habit of creeping up, oh my word. But elegance is AGELESS. I remember a pathetic interview with Dr. Pam Stephenson (wife of Billy Connelly) when she said she wanted to continue being a “babe”. What? A PhD isn’t enough for you, Pam?

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Interesting article. Let’s see what happens with this extraordinary talent.

  • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    As a straight man who finds many women very attractive, I would rather listen to Yuja Wang than watch her. She’s a terrifically talented pianist. Inviting the “male gaze” just isn’t necessary in her case, or maybe she’s been told otherwise?

  • Jerome says:

    I don’t think you could have written an article that would merit more of an “ok boomer” eye roll than this one. Forget about sexist, just listen to your unbelievably condescending tone and ask yourself if the social media storm you are so clearly craving really justifies being such a lousy journalist.

    • True North says:

      Time to officially rename the site to “Women’s Wear Daily.”

    • Vadim Serebryany says:

      I couldn’t have said it better. I’m a professional concert pianist and music professor, so you might expect me to be quite the piano nerd, but I have never seen Wang’s Instagram page. Why is NL stalking her? What an embarrassing hack he is

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Stalking has nothing to do with it as Instagram and performative narcissism is always in our faces. Don’t call us; we’ll call you.

        And, as far as NL is concerned, I don’t see him cowtowing to some bien pensant tribal conformity in his thinking and for that alone I’m grateful.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The point is, that performers who distract from their musical achievement get something very wrong.

        They don’t produce a show, they are neither a circus act nor a peep show, but servants of the art form which is dependent upon their talents. When they want to claim interest in their own person through dressing, they thereby reveal their ignorance. They should be deeply ashamed about themselves, because instead of fulfilling their mission, they defame it with their ego trippery. As a punishment, they should be only allowed to perform behind a black screen (without peep holes).

        Therefore it is important that journalists and critics keep drawing attention to these excesses since they damage the concert format. Especially in these times, when the art form is under pressure from different directions concerning ‘relevance’, the last thing that performers should do is turning their performances into kitschy freak shows.

        • Kenny says:

          And to think I was there when Jean-Yves’ red socks were controversial.

          • John Borstlap says:

            When I attended a concert in Paris by this man, well, I had to, I couldn’t hear the music, fascinated as I was with the socks and reflecting on possible other garments with that bright colour we couldn’t see.


      • Jim C. says:

        Stalking? Come on.

        This whole schtick of hers is insulting and silly.

      • Jeffrey Baldwin says:

        Re: her instagram.
        I counted today and of her 130 or pics from the last year, if you dont count performance or beach pics, there EIGHT that had her wearing short shorts or skimpy shirts.

    • Nijinsky says:

      I actually agree that Yuja could put her attention to something else than promoting and getting contracts from whose shoes, purses or watch she’s touting about. Although I understand her reactionary response regarding how she should dress. How a woman dresses is ALSO used as an excuse for rapists, by the way, that she was just to distracting or asked for it.

      I’m actually not distracted at all from what she’s wearing, and don’t give it a second thought, the same with Anne-Sophie Mutter, who started on “fashion” when Von Karajan (of whom she’s said that she thought she would have jumped out a window would he have told her), when he said she looked like a German Shepard (dog). Which makes me wonder whether that’s more insulting to dogs or Germans that are shepherds. It doesn’t distract me, and in fact I give it so little thought, that when someone in an internet discussion started on about Anne-Sophie’s amazing fashion sense, although she despised her playing, I literally took a step back and had to laugh (I loved her playing but thought nothing of her fashion sense, or that was what it was about, or even liked it). Then I read Anne-Sophie rather amused calling it her uniform, and stating that it was comfortable and that she had a whole rack of them, or so.
      I do have to say that I admire what Midori or Martha Argerich wear, in contrast; when I have no reaction, or distraction from Yuja or Anne-Sophie.

    • Jim C. says:

      It doesn’t take being a boomer to be turned off by her style.

      She’s above criticism for this? Just how would someone question her at all then?

  • Paul Sekhri says:

    She’s a gorgeous player. And one of the greatest of younger generation pianists in the world right now. That’s what matters. And all that should.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Speaking as a fully paid up frump I think she is great and good for her let her wear what she wants as long as she plays the piano well what does it matter. So elderly men get hot and bothered so what.

  • Colin says:

    An excellent article.

  • Nadia says:

    Cluster Bs have the most humiliating existance and attract the equally grotesque and tragic.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      You’ve nailed it!! Some won’t know what you’re referring to but they need to Google the “DSM”. Oh, and be open to new ideas!!

    • Nijinsky says:

      LOL! I hadn’t even caught this. That’s quite remarkable, from you and “Sousa Naught a Form.” If there is anything Eulenspiegel about it….

      For anyone who hasn’t seen that “B cluster: refers to: “Cluster B personality disorders are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior. They include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.”

      Which like any other “diagnosis,” quite perfectly identifies psychiatrists, or those who are fundamentalists about psychiatry (like other fundamental movement, as in “Christianity” or other “religions”) where when anyone isn’t converted by them they can show any number of such traits. Such as dramatics, when someone doesn’t want to be told what’s going on with them; unpredictable thinking (indoctrinative discriminatory) behavior when someone doesn’t want to be told what’s going on with them (and might figure it out on their own to show the “diagnosis” isn’t a symptom of a disease, but of a natural process that when understood as such helps one understand the human condition and all of it’s facets); that said “psychiatrist” or fundamentalist becomes anti social, and instead of being interested in understanding who they are diagnosing and showing appropriate social interactions, only misinterprets the behavior of others; or have the need to be noticed, such is histrionic behavior, or think highly of themselves such as “narcissistic” behavior (in italics because Narcissus actually is a greed character completely different than what’s referred to, also a misrepresentation and misinterpretation) and then the behavior called borderline, which actually means they have no borders and start assuming they are part of everyone’s life and can’t live their own without such presumptions, when not really invited or desired by others to be there……

      Then there’s the symptoms of depression when others won’t be indoctrinated, paranoia, violence, and unrealistic fantasies of what’s going on which become a danger to others, and society (see current epidemic of psychiatric “diseases” statistically and scientifically attributable to their “medications” causing chemical imbalance to treat alleged imbalances which haven’t been proven to exist, and the paranoia against people treated such, consequently, or just against normal human responses to life)……. and all such “symptoms” very well articulated by psychiatry’s pundits by their own behavior as fundamentalists.

    • Nijinsky says:

      should have read Narcissus actually is a Greek character, not: “Narcissus actually is a greed character”

  • Anon says:

    She’s said more than once that she’ll wear long dresses and sensible shoes after turning 40. The way she makes music, I don’t care what she wears- she’s one of the all time giants of the piano. (BTW, I enjoy the wardrobes, and have been waiting years for a ‘malfunction’, but it never happens.)

    And hey, Norman: You’ve finally now confirmed everyone’s suspicion, you ARE obsessed with her. Knock it off.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      An unfortunate choice of words.

    • John Borstlap says:

      She has a special insurance against snapping tops and bursting slips. This means that her dress is checked every time before she steps on the stage by an insurance agent, who is the happiest guy in the company.

    • Jim C. says:

      NL has lately been going after a lot of this sexual crassness, and I’m glad of it.

      It’s also horribly hypocritical of these artists. Let’s not sexualize things, but here we are sexualizing things.

  • Simon Trace says:

    I couldn’t care less what she looks like or how she dresses, which I’m sure is exactly what she would want.

  • Chuck says:

    On Sunday, November 7, 2021, Yuja Wang and Leonidas Kavakos are scheduled to play a concert together in Orchestra Hall, Chicago. Perhaps the concert could be marketed as “The Beauty and the Beast”? I have been looking forward to this concert since it was announced — hearing these two very compelling musicians playing together should be good. The clothing really doesn’t matter. If Yuja wants to have fun with it I say go for it Yuja.

  • Robert says:

    Norman, it’s you who can’t have it both ways: you posted this picture, you have eyes. Why in the world would you change anything about Ms. Wang?

    Let’s bow to perfection when we see it and hear it 🙂 Two simultaneous gratifying sensory simulations (aural and visual) bundled for the price of one. I call this product differentiation and a real growth avenue for classical music.

  • Ich bin Ereignis says:

    Our epoch is obsessed with image, because it has lost all notion of substance. Most audiences nowadays have no ears and are driven purely by what they see and by the hype they read on the internet — not by what they hear, because for the most part their very capacity to hear has become fundamentally compromised. Art has become a mere spectacle, in the bad sense of the word — something to be merely seen and which procures cheap, temporary excitement without involving the deeper layers of the human spirit, because that always takes effort. A major career today is indissociable from an appealing and easily marketable package — a Clara Haskil or a Bruno Walter living nowadays would have been relegated, at best, to a teaching job in an obscure location. Technical perfection is a requirement, to be sure, but for the most part, what we have are media figures who sell well and who can easily appeal to the lowest common denominator. This, no doubt, has much to do with the main deciders in this business, who themselves no longer defend an art form and whose approach, for the most part, is soulless — its only aim is to make money and ensure that any principles or scruples won’t get in the way.

    • PS says:

      I hope you’re wrong but I think you’re right.

    • Neil Yates says:

      I quite agree!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      No, not judging by the excellent pianists who’ve just won accolades at the Chopin Competition!! Could a person be more modest than the winner Bruce Liu?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Alas, this is – apart from exceptions – all too true.

      When classical music is run as a business, all the worst demons bubble-up in the vacuums of the souls of the people that are supposed to run it. And they are not musicians themselves.

      “Our epoch is obsessed with image, because it has lost all notion of substance.” This is an essential part of modernity, that only the material and the visible counts. But classical music is an art of interiority, it is in that territory where its greatest strength and meaning lies. So, it is the opposite of modernity.

      This means that adaptation to this nature of modernity is suicicidal.

      • Ich bin Ereignis says:

        I completely agree on the disappearance of interiority — perhaps not on the whole of modernity, depending on when we see it begin — but one could argue that we are seeing, with the internet and the reign of the image, the apex of modernity, which strangely leads to the disappearance of the material and to sheer virtuality, such as in Mark Zuckerberg’s new “Metaverse” ambition. I think on these issues you might be very interested in the work of Arno Gruen, psychoanalyst who I think diagnosed the ills of modernity better than most thinkers.

  • Dick Hertz says:

    Just as long as Martha Argerich doesn’t come out in the same outfit, I’m okay with it

    • Minnesota says:

      Around 1974 Martha Argerich played the Ravel G Concerto with Skrowaczewski in Minneapolis. She was 33 or so and was in a long flaming red dress, and her dark hair flowed halfway down her back. In her own way she was every bit as hot as Yuja is now. It was both a visual and aural feast.

      Yuja will have to scale it back eventually, but she will look good for some time given how hard she works at it. And, of course, she will have to become a more finished artist, which also will take a lot of work.

  • Neil Yates says:

    I agree completely with the argument you’re presenting for dignified attire while performing classical music. One of my teachers was a concert pianist and he looked extraordinarily good dressed in a black tailcoat, tuxedo pants and a pristine white dress shirt with broken collar and white bow tie. That performing costume says a lot about the dignity of the performer and his attitude to the music he’s about to perform. In the case of Yuja Wang, I feel uncomfortable about watching a highly strung musical player dressed as a stripper! On the other hand, the gray satin gown worn by Aimi Kobayashi in the earlier rounds of the recent International Chopin Competition was in exquisite good taste. Serious music should be performed with respect.

  • Failed Bard says:

    preserve thy gracious self
    which is the goddess of my idolatry.

  • Bloom says:

    Miss Wang s playful simplicity delivers her from all or almost all evil in this matter. Miss Buniatishvili has got a slutty image that one can or should be concerned about.

    • Antonia says:

      Buniatishvili even sits on the bench in a way that arches her back, accentuating her derrière. Not good sitting posture at the piano. The pelvis should be tilted ever so slightly in, not exaggeratedly out.

  • Anthony Sanderson says:

    I’m surprsed Deutsche Grammaphon haven’t made more recordings. She is regularly nominated and often wins awards with those she does.

    She was due to record the three Bartok concertos with Zoltán Kocsis, who unfortunately passed away before the project was realised. Hopefully, she will be able to record them with someone else, having heard her play No. 2 at the BBC Proms.

  • Dr. Jim says:

    Wang Yuja——my favorite pianist, no matter what she wears!

  • Lukas Fierz says:

    Isn’t one main problem of classical music that some expect that it has to be “dignified” to a degree as to become indistinguishable from “mummified”, “embalmed” or outright dead. Yuya can fill halls, she can play (and how!), she is in a shape to allow her to wear anything and she obviously celebrates and enjoys all of this. So why not celebrate and enjoy with her, while she and we can?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      What an incredible EITHER/OR argument!!

    • John Borstlap says:

      A simple question: when becomes ‘dignified’ something ‘mummified’? Dignified relates to dress code, so how can it become mummified?

      A dignified dress code is a way of protecting the music against distracting nonsense. People who come to a concert to see things, are in the wrong hall.

      • Lukas Fierz says:

        My greatest concert memories are often as much visual as acoustic: the enthusiasm of Edwin Fischer; the obvious ease and happiness of Cecilia Bartoli, Oscar Peterson, György Cziffra or young Giardino Armonico while performing; the commanding and dignified appearance of Pierre Fournier; the somnambulic and mercurial inventiveness of Sandor Vegh. All these and many more remain for me lasting and also visual impressions against which CD-recordings seem incomplete.

  • Bloom says:

    The article moves from the skimpy clothes department to discussing the relevance and depth of her interpretations. That s a good thing . It bares the core of the problem.

  • Augustine says:

    As a past subscriber to Digital Concert Hall, I enjoyed the interviews by members of the Berlin Philharmonic who would interview the guest soloists.

    I watched Yuja Wang’s interview and Hilary Hahn’s interview and remember thinking that HH’s was so much more astute, insightful and erudite. And of course, YW could not help trying to steer the conversation to her attire (which the interviewer would not pick up on).

    I think we need to separate the person from the pianist, if we are to appreciate YW’s talent.

  • nimitta says:

    So artists are to dress in a dignified manner, whatever that might mean to a certain elderly British gentleman and some of his musical correspondents; and to avoid calling attention to their appearance in order not to distract the audience from the music, eh?

    Surely this proposal is not targeted at but one or two worthy female artists named Yuja and Khatia, but for all performers of concert music. Thus, singers should eschew the sparkling concert or recital gown, not to mention the wardrobe change during the pause. Jean-Yves Thibaudent is to ditch the dandy vestments, and the Jussens their snug, satiny tunics.

    Furthermore, one ought subtract from one’s presentation any hint of sexuality or even corporeality – this even as one spills out the ecstatically orgasmic splendors of the Scriabin 10th (as Wang did the last time I heard her) or the passionate declarations of the Rach 2 (ditto Buniatishvili).

    No. The basic premise of your proposal is incorrect, NL: the dazzling wardrobes and physicalities do compel the attention of both males and females, all across the spectra of sexuality and visual acuity….but only at the start, as the artists stride on stage and take their places. It is a first impression, made on certain senses that, thus primed, then defer to others.

    From the first notes, what compels listeners far more is the music. It is not a perfect union, though, in that distraction is a fact of all listening, and its management rests entirely in the mind of the listener. It does not matter whether one is a professional musician oneself, pondering for a moment some technical or interpretive feature; or a non-musican momentarily drawn to an attractive, beautifully dressed woman or man in the audience; or a critic, thinking about a deadline.

    Implicit in your proposal, Mr. Lebrecht, is the easily refuted notion that your obsession with these beautiful young female artists and their attire is THEIR responsibility, instead of yours. I imagine we’d all of us agree that, in general, sustained attention to the music itself resides much more in our jurisdiction than the performer’s. So, one has to wonder why this simple fact eludes so many, both in music and in life beyond music.

  • Ernst says:

    I find the article, a bit petit bourgeois, indeed. I don’t find Wang particularly pretty or attractive looking. I have enjoyed many of her performances. For some pieces of Chopin, she needs to mature to really understand them, I guess.

    I wouldn’t mind if she’d go in the nude, indeed; now or after 40; it would be an interesting experience … both for her and for me …

  • Carmine says:

    Have you checked Lorenzo Viottis Instagram page …he does the same , posts bear chest sexy pictures of himself all the time, but he is a man …will you also judge him the same way ?

  • Seriously says:

    It’s hard for me to believe, even given this site and your utterances over the years, that you would write such a piece. You literally exist to do nothing other than snipe from the side, and it’s gotten beyond ridiculous. This is the last time I visit this site, comment, or read anything you write, whether book or article. “She could be a sensation if…” etc. Seriously? She *is* a sensation and has been for a long time, it’s you who has passed your sell by date, if ever there was anything to sell. You lose.

    • Jim C. says:

      Man. All this ageism here.

      I love too this idea that if we object to her silly tackiness and exploitation, that means we’re projecting some weird preoccupations of our own.

      Hardly. It’s not just classical music, either. Back when I was 20 I disliked Fleetwood Mac for the same reason. Those two women were ruining it with their constant posing and sexual posturing.

  • Anthony Guterwicz says:

    Music is about sound, nothing else. Period. End of story.

  • V. Lind says:

    I’m female and saw Yuja Wang a few times when she was in her young 20s. She certainly dressed normally then — long, attractive dresses. Somewhere along the line she decided to change her image, for whatever reason. I don’t care. She was breathtaking, unforgettable and someone I wanted to continue to hear play.

    Maybe she reacted to the “Barihunks” who briefly held vogue and thought, if men, why not women?

  • Frankster says:

    The conclusion here: Concert performers can wear anything they want. Naked? Why not?
    I am so old…how old am I?… I am so old that I remember when performers dressed so as not to distract from the music they perform.

    • Nijinsky says:

      And it was so distracting [then] that anyone wearing anything different didn’t have to worry about being distracting anymore.

      Actually performers should be totally invisible in order to not be distracting, like all the “dead” composers whose “clothes” no one can criticize when they show up for a performance.

      It’s exactly the people that aren’t really listening to the music that are “distracted,” to begin with.

    • Nijinsky says:

      I short, it’s BOTH sides that are distracting. “Don’t wear distracting things,” or “Don’t tell me not to wear distracting things.” BOTH are distracting themselves with their attire.

    • John Borstlap says:

      These contemporary excesses are, in fact, a kitschy replaying of 19C romantic excesses, when performers would create a show for the ignorant bourgeois audiences (Paganini, Liszt) and turn their concert into a show (Pachmann talking and commenting during his playing, stopping in the middle of a piece to deliver a short speech or criticizing audience members). Even as late as around 1900 Busoni would perform with his enormous newfoundland dog on the stage, who would look silently and sombre into the stunned auditorium.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        …and classical music survived the excesses of Paganini, Liszt, et al. — it even thrived. Why do you insist that it’s imperiled by Wang’s attire (or Thibaudet’s, for that matter) today??

        • John Borstlap says:

          Liszt’s music – that is, the best of it – survived in spite of his antics. It is well-known that when he played in a salon setting for professionals and/or educated listeners, he never indulged in showmanship. (Chopin did not like public concerts because of the ‘need’ to offer some show as well and therefore only played in the Parisian salons. Almost ALL of Chopin’s music survived the times.) Paganini’s music was too thin to survive, apart from a number of caprices that are only itneresting for people who love olympic acrobatics on the strings. And only Busoni’s experimental ‘show-less’ works are occasionally played, and not his monstrous piano concerto of more than an hour long and filled to the brim with phrasmotic bombast. Etc. etc…..

    • Nijinsky says:

      And you forgot to mention that you’re so old that women couldn’t wear pants, to add to what was “distracting” or not. It’s also something that typifies a society when someone simply being naked becomes a distraction, as if everyone is born in an indecent fashion. When THAT becomes the standard of what’s “distracting” or not, you’re not working with a working society, to begin with.

      Or that anyone dressing “appropriately” can start propping up their ego by being “distracted” does anyone according to them not.

      Pathetic and Sick then starts deciding what’s distracting, is the real conclusion.

  • Monty Earleman says:

    What would be the reaction to a column opining that the writer cannot stand Mitsuko Uchida because of how unattractive she is and how awfully she dresses?

  • Bystander says:

    Perfect look, perfect performance, young energy, lovely integral experience. Attracting, among others, the younger generations to the classical music. Great Yuja Wang, no matter what some elitist reviewers might have to say.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Another one.

    • Jim C. says:

      yeah, because playing the kind of music she plays *isn’t* elitist.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Artistic quality and authentic dignity are not elitist, but entirely accessible. People who find this elitist, seek an excuse for their lack of perception so that they don’t feel excluded and dumb. (I could say much more but my PA is protesting behind me.)

  • M McAlpine says:

    Terrific pianist who has undergone a late teen rebellion in public. OK Yuja, we know you’re good looking, but now let’s get down to the music. Just get over it and grow up. We enjoy you as a pianist and still think you’re good looking without the show.

  • Fliszt says:

    Hey, when ya got it, flaunt it! Yuja had no childhood, so now she wants to have fun. And stop comparing her with that Yuja-wannabe Katia – Yuja is a gem, and Katia is costume jewelry. Katia is the one with a sell-by date. Yuja has solid artistry that will transcend wardrobe and the accoutrements of youth.

  • Monsoon says:

    “My defence is that Yuja Wang does everything possible to draw attention to her appearance.”

    That’s basically the same argument men make about women who are sexually harassed — they are inviting the gaze of the male by wearing something that’s revealing.

    With male soloists, the “penguin suit” went out of fashion long ago, and concert outfits have become increasingly informal, colorful, and advertisements for high-end fashion designers. I can’t recall many critical articles written about that — in fact, there have been plenty of fawning interviews asking soloists like Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Lang Lang “who they are wearing.” But as always, there’s a double standard when women do this.

    • Nijinsky says:

      “My defence is that Yuja Wang does everything possible to draw attention to her appearance.” And ISIS would agree.

  • margaret koscielny says:

    Talent and musical intuition is not synonymous with intellectual depth, although, there are sometimes exceptions. SD makes a strong point that this young woman is immature and unschooled in some of the basic musical/historical underpiniItngs of her art. It isn’t merely, the clothing, it’s the shallowness of the extra public life on social media, which can dumb-down even fairly smart people. It doesn’t enhance the musical experience; it tittilates the aging males who sit on the first rows.

    It is unfortunate that such an immensely talented woman resorts to exhibitionism. If, indeed, she has only one friend, her former teacher, then he has failed her by not encouraging her to develop a more well-rounded life. Obviously, she can afford, financially, to take time off to make friends. She needs them. It will help her musically. There are entities who are profiting off this socially and emotionally un-developed woman. That is the added tragedy of her future life.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Brilliant, insightful comments. All I remember from most of her interviews is the girly giggling. Something seems to have gone very wrong.

  • Michael McGrath says:

    Thank you for provoking this discussion. You cannot have it both ways, ladies. Ms Wang’s message is flesh and innuendo, not classical and not music. If men now comment on your posterior rather than your Prokofiev, it is because you bare it. I wouldn’t be surprised if women find you bad news for their best interests, let alone #me-too. If you want a longer term career than your imploding pianost career (why would I choose you over Stadtfeld or Argerich?!), may I unflinchingly suggest you look into modeling – or film.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      THANK YOU!!!! Very well said. Contrary to the view of the new victimhood and entitlement culture warriors we ourselves are responsible for the respect we earn – or not – from others.

  • David Fox says:

    You make one excellent point – Yuja has the goods. Not just in Prokofiev and Ligeti, but also in Brahms and many others. Not just chops but deep musical substance.

    As for the rest – you of all people should know that breaking a career in classical music usually requires style and substance. You can get away with the former but the latter catches up with you over time. There are some who have no panache to speak of but manage to gut it out until the public catches wind of their musicianship, but these are the exceptions to the rule – the Richard Goode’s, the Mitsuko Uchida’s, the Jeremy Denk’s.

    And in terms of a sell-by date, I think there’s more than a little sexism in that comment. Peter Sellars continues to play the bad boy into his mid-60’s with ridiculously thinning spiked hair. Horowitz played the imp well into his 80’s. Kissin was still boyishly floofing his hair well into his 40’s. Jean-Yves Thibaudet embraces a flamboyant fashion image while continuing to bring the goods. I consider all of the above to be serious artists but they understand/understood the “show” part of show business. On the female side, Martha Argerich has presented a model of transitioning an electric female presence well into old age. Women shouldn’t have to don a nun’s habit to be considered serious musicians.

    • Titurel says:

      I’d say that three of the examples you cite: Goode, Uchida and Denk- are all far more distracting with their facial tics and esp. Denk’s bobble-headed glancing at his audience- than Yuja’s totally natural and unagonized stage manner. Dresses aside. And btw, what are those chiffon space suits that Uchida wears?

      • John Borstlap says:

        There’s also the painful grimaces of Pollini with associations with a very difficult digestive process. also very distracting.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    How important is it to a critic or to his/her readership to note that Yuja dresses seductively; that Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Evelyn Glennie and Alice Sara Ott play barefoot; that Jean-Yves Thibaudet wore red socks (in his red socks period)?

    The reader who’s never attended one of their concerts is made aware of those things because a reviewer mentioned it. Those quirks aren’t central to their art — just minor incidentals that distinguish their onstage personalities. If you make note of it, you can give it the appropriate degree of attention. If you give it more attention than it deserves, that’s when you become a fashion critic. And since when was the critic immune from criticism?

  • SlippedChat says:

    To the best of my knowledge, Ms. Wang has never appeared in the several performance halls of the area where I live, and so I “know” her work only from videos. But I find it difficult to gauge her actual talent, because her sartorial escapades are so damn distracting. And I don’t mean that statement in a good way as in “so delightful to look at and so enriching to my experience of her art.” I mean that I find myself thinking “Oh, look at the performer’s efforts (or her publicist’s efforts) to draw attention to her body” rather than “oh, what a transporting performance.”

    But then, even though I’m male, I’ve cringed for many years when, for example, female opera singers on record album covers have been photographed with their cleavage exalted, while reclining on sofas or beds and gazing at the camera with a “come hither” look. I find it degrading to their dignity and their art, although apparently they (and/or their publicists) disagree.

  • Amos says:

    When Gulda opted to play sans clothing was he a better or worse musician than dressed in tails? On those occasions when I’ve both seen and heard Ms. Wang play I’ve found her performances superficial and I don’t think a change of wardrobe would have altered my opinion. If the organizations that engage her do so in part because they welcome an aesthetic more common in a Las Vegas nightclub so be it. That said once engaged she should be free to present herself as she sees fit and hopefully be judged solely on the musicality of her performance.

  • Charles Cornner says:

    Jacqueline DuPre, Martha Argerich, Maria Joao-Pires are sensual artists who allowed themselves that. One could say Lang Lang and Igor Levit are similar. The problem you may have is the idea of the artist becoming a part of the presentation. To your recent post on Melbourne Symphony stating that it has performed a certain number of female composers, soloists, or members being not the point, I would say this: For most major symphony orchestras such as Vienna and Berlin, the statement was that no women were allowed in those orchestras. If that statement (tacit or explicit) wasn’t a problem, then a statement of equity and equality shouldn’t be either. Yuja Wang is a tremendous player whose sexuality is a strong part of her performance, like Khatia Buniatishvili, and even Nigel Kennedy and Cameron Carpenter. It is a valid consideration to say that concert attire should not distract from the music. It is an equally valid consideration to say that it is up to the audience to integrate appearance with the performance holistically.

  • Come on now… says:

    I, for one, am delighted by your “obsession” Norman. Your column does make a valid point, were Yuja not to have this edginess to her, I’m sure she would garner more respect from the traditionalists as an artist, however, one must ask if her career would be continuing to reach such heights if it weren’t for her mass appeal and the media’s continued intrigue.

    Yuja is a sexy package, and I believe you are (if occasionally bizarrely) doing her a great service by continuing to point out how different from the traditional image of a concert pianist she is.

    She is an incredible instinctive artist, she is a playful character, she wears whatever the hell she wants and feels good wearing, and she is obviously highly astute when it comes to developing her aesthetic and personal brand.

    I doubt that she will ever fall into the box in which you appear so keen to put her, but I also think you are wrong about her future – To listen the artistic depth she brings to her performing today in comparison to where she was 10 years ago is absolutely phenomenal, and I look forward to following her career for decades to come.

    So, long may your obsession continue, but don’t kid yourself, she is already a sensation.

  • Michael Levine says:

    I remember when people got all kooky about Nigel Kennedy’s rock n’ roll apparel. Whether you want to admit it or not, classical music IS showbiz. But the bottom line is Nigel and Yuja are both outstanding musicians. Enough carping.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I find exhibitionism an embarrassment, but in the age of performative narcissism some people who should know way better are being sucked into that vortex. It’s a kind of neediness and very sad and disturbing in its own way.

    This isn’t an existential question: what happens when you hit your mid 40s and you’re not a ‘babe’ anymore?

  • Sean says:

    This article and opinion exhibits extraordinary sexism and a bizarre infatuation with her appearance.

    My take is she can dress however the hell she wants. If you don’t like it go to any number of “normal” concerts where everyone wears black and acts like it’s a funeral.

    Maybe what we REALLY should be exploring is why there is a ‘dress code’ to play classical music at all, and how we continue to allow it to be so incredibly stuffy.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    When Ms Wang enters the stage, I note her appearance. When she begins to play, I lower my eyelids (useful tools, those) to concentrate on the music-making. And I have yet to be disappointed in her performances, even if she is not the next incarnation of Claudio Arrau or the rejuvenation of Alfred Brendel. She is the first Yuja Wang, and I do not regret having listened to her performances (only a few of them, so far).

    I will note an exception to my closed-eyed listening: if she’s playing a particularly technically challenging piece or a playfully splashy encore, I’ll watch the video close-up of her hands (if available at the hall) — for a few passages.

  • Dorian says:

    Yuja Wang just announced she would wear burqa in the next concert.

  • Mick says:

    Non-issue. People can dress how ever they want. If it affects you than write an article about how it hurts your sad male ego, but we wont read it just like how I’ll be avoiding your ridiculous news site hence forth.

  • Nijinsky says:

    It’s “amazing” how there’s almost no middle path in these “discussions.” Even the people saying Norman is doing it in order to create sparing sides, and cause volatility and thus spike readership aren’t taking the middle road.

    I also question whether Yuja’s interest in “fashion” and her reactionary response to “critic” rather than simply getting more involved with the music is helping her. That’s a valid concern, that’s not sensationalist journalism to spike readership with no real content but superficiality. On the other hand, is she supposed to wear a Burqa?

    All those egging her on with her reactionary responses aren’t helping her, nor are those labeling what she wears as distracting, as little as that the color pink shouldn’t be seen in a classical music venue.

  • Claude says:

    Oh please. Do I complain about musicians wearing white tie and looking like Victorian butlers? Now THAT’S silly.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    She is a terrifically talented pianist, but let’s face it, her attire has kept her at the front headlines for longer than her talent alone. Musically/pianistically, there isn’t much (to the average listener’s ear) that separates her from any number of talented world-class pianists out there. Her live performances are of course great, but as a recording artist she is merely average.

  • Radnor says:

    She was in Canada in 2006, I was there, she was 16 or 17 then.

    “4, 5 October 2006 Ottawa, Canada National Arts Centre Orchestra conducted by Pinchas Zukerman National Arts Centre, Southam Hall PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 SCHUBERT: Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 ‘Trout’  with Pinchas Zukerman violin, Jethro Marks viola, Amanda Forsyth cello, Joel Quarrington double bass”

    Let a woman be a woman, let her wear whatever she wants, let her play the piano too.
    If she appeared in a Walmart outfit someone would complain.

  • Radnor says:

    On the 8th of February2005 she replaced Radu Lupu.
    In 2006 on 26th March she replaced Murray Perahia. Way before her “listed start” when she replaced Martha Argerich in Boston in 2007.
    But Mr. Lebrecht, you are too old to comment on what young people wear these days especially those in show business and other ‘influencers’.

  • Radnor says:

    The reason she played in Canada she replaced Radu Lupu, and he is pretty heavy stuff, and Murray Perahia too.

  • Jack says:

    So Norman, I think we need an article from you on how Evgeny Kissin’s wardrobe decisions affect his overall artistry.

    Or how about Pierre-Laurent Aimard. When he was here a couple of years ago, I’m convinced the color of his shirt affected his Chopin in a very negative way. Maybe you could look into that for us and report back.

    I’m convinced Paul Lewis’s memorable performance of Schubert’s last three sonatas here had everything to do with the color of his socks. Give him a call and ask him about that.

    And did you notice that Van Cliburn started going downhill when he switched his tailors? I did!

    Or is it that you have something of a double standard going here?

    If you want to make the point that Yuja Wang is starting to put out superficial stuff, I’m not sure it has a lot to do with how much of her body we can see. It doesn’t for me. I’ve heard her perform here in my town and couldn’t tell you what she wore, but I remember her pianism vividly.

    Hint: Music is music is music.

  • Anthony Sanderson says:

    She has played Brahms Piano Concerto No.2 with Gergiev


    and the Brahms Violin Sonatas with Leoinid Kavakos to great reviews


    Judge for yourself.


    She is clealry developing her playing in the Austo-German classics and her dress sense changes.

    I guess she will develop her career as she sees fits.

    Currently Bach, Busoni and Shostakovich with Kavakos on tour.


  • David Barneby says:

    As a one time actor and many years artist, I think the commenter doesn’t understand the inner physical element of performance, it is not just fingers tinkling up and down the keys. My guess is that for Yuja Wang the joy of playing is almost orgasmic, that her revealing clothing is an expression of her inner being and feelings .

  • Jim C. says:

    Even in California, beach vibes and rehearsal vibes aren’t the same thing.

    So silly. Plus, she didn’t write that anyway. It’s P.R. fluff.

  • Adrian Hart says:

    You seem to have a thing about her. Perhaps if she was ugly and wore sexless clothes it wouldn’t be an issue. You are displaying a certain English form if misogynistic puritanism. This is ugly of you.

  • john humphreys says:

    Can’t say that her ‘provocations’ affect me one jot, indeed if they get an old man’s blood racing then this is added value. As a musician she is up there with the finest. Witness a ‘Hammerklavier’ which leaves most others in its wake. Eileen Joyce changed her costume frequently during a recital, colour depending on composer. She didn’t have Yuja’s legs (so far as I know) but legs different in those days and a greater prurience at work. Yuja reputation stands or falls on her playing which is formidable.

  • Nick says:

    Yes, she “dresses” minimally, — true! But boy, does she play outstandingly well!!!

  • M McAlpine says:

    From the numbers of comments we see Norman’s obsession with Yuja’s dress (or lack of it) reflected by SD readers!

  • MR says:

    My sense is Yuja’s dress is entirely consistent with the way she plays, and I admire how she aligns her music and dress with great alacrity. Wang’s musical style is original, and it is refreshingly natural for her sartorial sense to be in harmony with invisible sound. No doubt, as her playing evolves, so will her dress, even if those changes may be subtle. The notion that woman over 40 are less attractive is superficial and erroneous.

  • BRUCEB says:

    “Why Yuja Wang’s Critics Can’t Have It Both Ways.”

    …because they can’t, or choose not to, separate their visual impressions from their aural ones.

    If, as I have read in so many comments, her playing (and Buniatishvili’s) is unworthy of the amount of attention paid to the player, then… why are they paying so much attention? “Mediocre pianist — not interested — ignore” is a perfectly simple approach to ignoring musicians you find mediocre and uninteresting, ploys for attention notwithstanding.

    If the playing is dazzling, then surely it would still be dazzling if they dressed like Clara Schumann: https://washingtonclassicalreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/clara-schumann.jpg, regardless of how they market themselves. (Wouldn’t it?)

  • BobS says:

    Compliments to the photographer, excellent work

  • David Fowler says:

    Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang are performing together next week in Lincoln, Nebraska, and like many other men my age (81) I can’t wait to see what Leo will be wearing. I can’t decide for myself — should I wear the Brooks pin stripe or go with my Harris Tweed and a black mock neck? If I knew they were doing Brahms, of course it would be the tweed…

  • Nick S says:

    Another classic click bait one. Lately there were 4 separate post about Yundi Li, Norman’ favorite Chinese pianist or his pick to dethrone Lang Lang since when? Over a decade ago? Guess what? Those four separate post totaled about the same amount of responses he got from this single one. Money well earned. What puzzles me is not Norman’ fixation on bashing Yuja’s outfit or Lang Lang’s flamboyance, but his refusal to admit that he picked a wrong horse as Li is clear a big failure for any major competition winner, especially since 2008. Why? Could it be because Yundi’s own company/agency once sponsored Norman’s book tour in China over a decade ago? Or the wines together with the review CD he sent?

  • Nigel Goldberg says:

    Isn’t it just possible that she enjoys the reaction that she creates and is winding everyone up? Fortunately for her, she can also ‘deliver’ and her playing and musicianship, whether one likes it or not, are worth taking seriously. We also have the other side of the coin with people turning up to play at the Proms this summer in trainers and scruffy cloths and no one seems to be too bothered about that.


    Dear sir, I’m only going to make one comment about this horrific compilation of semi facts….Her playing of encores came from a conversation that we had about Rubinstein… This was much much earlier in her career and I suggested to her that Rubinstein gave of himself far beyond the printed program,-that those who truly adored him were going to receive something truly personal, beyond the printed program. Every one of us looked forward to this 2nd “program” and knew that it was from his heart. This is what she embraced as an idea and has nothing to do with desire to manifest a confidence to which you allude. As to a responsibility you think she owes to divulge who her friends are, I can’t imagine. The people who care about her are grateful she can find a moment to make a friendship. It is quite probable that only those who play a 100 concerts a year could conceivably imagine how grueling that existence must be like- which is an empathy/ compassion that you do not extend to her in any way
    As to your comment that she is “arm candy” one can hear a tone of envy. At least you allowed yourself to receive commentary by posting it on your website, That part was brave.

    • oh please says:

      Ah yes, “Dr. Jean-David”, undoubtedly she owes it ALL to you. Yes, I’m sure you had a tremendous, PROFOUND, influence upon the fledgling Ms Wang – even though as you were talking, she was looking desperately over your shoulder for someone, anyone, to save her from your halitosis-scented mansplaining. Still, such is the GENIUS of your PROFUNDITY that, of course, the very vestiges of that exchange can be heard in her every played note. Future musicologists, not to mention audiences and of course, Ms Wang herself, OWE you a fucking huge debt of GRATITUDE. What would we do without you?

      • DR.JEAN-DAVID COEN says:

        She certainly owes me nothing , and would have been the same extraordinary pianist regardless of whom she sought feedback from. In this case I had specific knowledge to contradict one of lebrecht’s ridiculous assertions. That’s all.

  • Dan says:

    Ah gees as if the concert stage has some sort of moral code about it, rules that must be upheld. Your world view is narrow, fancy being annoyed that someone wears a dress.

  • I completely concur with the article above. Strikingly at first sight as she steps unto the stage to perform a concert is her attire….too much body-exposure: bare back and naked long legs. What is she trying to convey…her music or her body?

  • Helen Malone says:

    She’ll continue (I hope!) to dress however the hell she pleases regardless of other people’s opinions – and she’ll continue to have breathtaking skills while you’ll continue to be a bitter little critic

  • Karin Becker says:

    Miss Wang loves photos of herself scantily clad. She should change her profession and only play in bars. A Swiss lover and student of Horowitz has also made a career this way.

  • Karin Becker says:

    NL: The Chinese pianist offers the audience in the hall and the men who watch and listen to her video recordings two masterpieces: the creations of great composers and her naked thighs. Without a doubt, Yuja Wang’s body is a masterpiece in God’s creation. As we know from the psychology of perception, people/men cannot pay attention to two masterpieces at the same time. Miss Wang should therefore choose to present one masterpiece. As things stand, that should be her body. Many can play the piano, especially male pianists. But only a few have a beautiful back and legs. I think the Chinese woman should start building a career as a bar pianist. She will soon be 35 years old.

    • Sofia Best says:

      The “Chinese pianist” has more talent in her little finger than many male pianists could even dream of having. Your comment is sexist and out of place. And BTW… Just because you have thighs like pudding doesn’t mean other people are not allowed to show theirs

  • Karin Becker says:

    Maybe YW wanted to clean the floor with a hoover and chose a suitable outfit for it?

  • Gautier Capucon says:

    Who wants to see me in a mankini for my next saint saens concerto?

    • Sofia Best says:

      Great idea!
      Sadly, don’t think Mr. Lebrecht will dedicate to it even half the attention he has poured into this misogynistic piece of crap.

  • А good article. I watched her in Amsterdam a few years ago, she summoned Chopin’s Preludes which appeared as a string of fantastic furry creatures, or rather as one creature morphing, transforming and deforming itself, opening and closing different doors to its soul. I don’t think Yuja lacks soul, but I agree she strikes as a lonely, somewhat lost girl who tries to share but does not know how and compensates. There is something curious to her exhibitionism. She reminds of Debussy who compares the attraction of the virtuoso to the public to that of the circus to the crowd: there is always the hope that something dangerous may happen. Yuja is thrilling. Her bling, inappropriately exposed flesh, the nude legs, her petiteness and Far East features all combine to introduce into the smooth and tidy black & white strata of concert stage a deviant line of escape. Imposing its sexual persona over the muscular, manly music, Yuja’s recklessly constructed womanhood ripples the established idea of what a Beethoven’s concert should look and sound like, dominating it with a freaky-solid performance and wild femininity. All this carnality, loudness, neediness, exposed vulnerability and Lolita-ish self-positioning TOGETHER with her original, deep, daring playing conflict and perturb perception – which allows one to encounter the familiar works of the repertoire anew. When I look at her Beethoven, I hear and grasp him in different, new, interesting ways. . .. Anyway, I, too, fear what her 50s and 60s might look (and sound) like. I hope she finds love and happiness outside the piano, it seems she pours all she has into it.

  • Karin Becker says:

    It is striking that none of the commentaries mention the most important pianist of our time: Grigory Sokolov. He is the antipode to the noisy, gossipy artists interested in surface, glitter and glamour, such as Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, Igor Levit, Katja B., to name only those who are loudest in the media. Sokolov concentrates only on the music, gives no (or at least rarely) interviews, there are no homestories, only a few CDs, and he dresses old-fashioned. Sokolov has become a cult in his inwardness. Those who buy tickets for his concerts want to immerse themselves in another world with him. Sokolov gives his listeners something that a YW doesn’t even know exists.

  • Someone who plays with her regularly says:

    You armchair quarterbacks are pitiful. She plays better than most who have ever lived, her interpretations infused with all the wit, charm, depth, and elegance one could imagine. She has incredible technique and because she is Asian you racists accuse her of only being technical and “not musical”. BS. She has more musical depth in her pinky than any of you.
    And she enjoys wearing fun, high fashion clothes, whether you like it or not. Get over yourselves, and consider yourselves lucky to be alive to witness her greatness. If you think women shouldn’t dress how they want, go hang out with the religious fundamentalists. Otherwise, grow up.

    • Karin Becker says:

      You are a dreamer in love who, in his imagination, makes a princess out of a scantily clad Chinese woman. YW is very earthly and her pianistic skills are also limited. But please: Dream on

  • Karin Becker says:

    In an interview with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (22.6.2019)
    YW held out the prospect of stopping travelling and performing altogether,maybe having a baby. Having a baby is a nice idea. It would give the Chinese woman a sense of purpose in life. Pregnancy would be a fashion inspiration for the fashionista.

  • Madi says:

    Really obsessed with the appearance. I guess he isn’t here for the music….

  • Laura says:

    I wasn’t aware that classical pianists played with their clothing.

  • Yuja Wang is an artist of the highest caliber; who came to America; studied under two of the greatest pianists in the 20th Century and has emerged as an enormous talent, full of precision and gifted artistry. What she choses to wear is none of your damn business. No one, repeat, no one should ever be judged on a concert stage by what they wear, which happens to be designer clothes, but by how they perform. You can’t name a better pianist. I’ve studied music for over sixty years and no one ever played with such precision or flair as Yuja Wang. Go suck an egg.

    • Karin Becker says:

      What a soloist wears when she performs in a serious setting, or how far she takes her clothes off, is very much my business. I buy a concert ticket to listen to music and not to acclaim the displayed nudity of a hyped Chinese woman.
      If I want to see female flesh presented in sexualised form, I go to a bar or a beach. Clothes and appearance go together for Ms Wang, she wants to please, as a woman, so she displays her body in revealing, ugly outfits.
      Of course I can name better pianists than Yuja Wang. I listen to them every year and so far neither Trifonov nor Sokolov have seen fit to present her thighs and back to the audience. They are both only interested in the music, how wonderful.When I want to listen to Beethoven’s Sonata op 106, I don’t want to be bothered with the sight of a woman’s naked thighs at the piano, Miss Wang is bothering her audience with a cheekiness only available to her with the display of various body parts. How awful.

    • MD says:

      Again, if. Joshua Bell showed up in a thong, people would notice and he’d be judged. It’s just ludicrous to suggest that a performer’s decisions as to how they appear on stage should not be critiqued. Zubin Mehta conducting in his altogether would certainly be a distraction. Or is it only the young, beautiful and female who can aggressively trade on their erotic appeal and expect not to hear about it?

  • MD says:

    Yuja Wang is extremely gifted, but she’s not so far beyond any mortal who has ever played that she is beyond criticism. She’s also a very beautiful woman, but not so much more beautiful than any woman who has ever appeared in the public eye that she should therefore be entirely beyond judgment. It seems perfectly reasonable to comment on her stage image. Weirdly one is expected not to notice how a performer performs. If Joshua Bell, say, decided that playing in only a thong made him feel freer as a musician I don’t think it would be out of bounds to suggest that maybe he’d serve the music a little better if he showed a little less Bell. If Yuja Wang appeared nude on stage I suppose we’d be scolded for noticing and shamed for suggesting that the movement of her naked body distracted from her playing.

  • Christian Kliber says:

    I would love it if Yuja Wang performed and/or recorded more Ligeti Études. Or if she did something new and inspirational; something that would command deep respect from the majority of classical pianists and music lovers.

  • Sofia Best says:

    Oh, look… Another misogynistic, absolutely useless article by Norman Lebrecht… How innovative

  • Christian Kliber says:

    “Look at me – don’t look at me”

    Music is about creating a shared harmony out of tension, giving us the listeners a sense of togetherness, a moment of mutual understanding. Yuja sparks a divided (unfriendly) debate among music lovers, and it’s really a pity, because it could easily have been avoided.

  • Eugene says:

    Childish piece from Lebrecht. Immature and silly. Yuja Wang can have it both ways.

  • Jade says:

    Yuja Wang is doing wonders for the classical music world in reducing its traditional stuffy image. She says in interviews that she likes clothes and likes fashion. Her playing is amazing and what she wears does not detract from that one bit.

  • Rick says:

    Anyone who can play like Yuja can wear whatever she likes as far as I’m concerned. She’s already explained her initial attraction to the Russian romantics and that she will move on to late Beethoven, Mozart and the like in good time. Having said that her interpretations of the Hammerklavier over the last seven years have been pretty impressive. I for one look forward to growing old watching her develop and enjoying every moment. She is an enormous talent. Why are people pulling her down. Actually I think I know.

  • Richard Steele says:

    I don’t care if she appears completely nude on stage. It is possible to be of two minds. Yuja Wang is both an artist and a desirable woman. Why pretend?! And quite frankly, the classical music world could use a bit of erotica. Yuja, I adore you.

    • Christian says:

      I’ve read your statement. And if it was an academical joke, then OK. But if it isn’t – then please allow me to ask you: What on Earth should the classical music world use it for??