Yuja Wang reopens Carnegie Hall. Who’s laughing now?

Yuja Wang reopens Carnegie Hall. Who’s laughing now?


norman lebrecht

October 06, 2021

There has been much discussion of the Chinese-American pianist by this site’s commenters for her skinny outfits and skimpy casual wear. It has even been suggested that we are somehow obsessed by her.

Tonight, the laugh’s on her side.

Yuja, of all the world’s piano stars, has been chosen to play Carnegie Hall’s $10-grand-a-seat comeback concert.

That’s some honour for an artist of 34 who is known more for externality than spirituality, and some statement by Carnegie Hall.

Watch this space.



  • caranome says:

    At $10K/seat, I guess they ignored the requisite rhetoric about expanding access to underrepresented communities to atone from past sins etc. As the saying goes, “money talks, shit walks.”

    • BRUCEB says:

      It’s an opening night gala. The purpose is fundraising.

      If they just want to keep regular people out, they can do that all year long just by charging their normal prices.

    • Larry D says:

      The saying is “bullshit walks”, but apparently that wasn’t vulgar enough for you. And there are much cheaper seats available.

    • Stephen Owades says:

      The opening gala was live-streamed via Medici.tv and on YouTube; it can still be seen as of now. The purpose of a gala is to raise money for the institution, and I hope they succeeded. And tickets were not all $10k apiece.

  • kh says:

    Why wouldn’t Carnegie Hall choose her? Shame they didn’t consult you and pick your favourites such as Daniil Trifonov. Have you compared their live recordings in any piece of their overlapping repertoire? Let’s put things into perspective. If Trifonov can be hailed as a genius, as you and many music journalists do, then surely Carnegie Hall can engage Yuja Wang as their re-opening concert guest and won’t come off as the party with less integrity.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I don’t know about you but I’ve grown bored by Trifonov’s untidy mien. A good appearance for radio!! Perhaps it’s supposed to be so ‘long hair’ but more representative of the 50s ‘beat’ generation than the 21st century.

    • Namity says:

      No one of them is genuine or genius, crazy working, yes!
      We can’t call them even the artists – yes, public performing practitioners.
      The Artists it’s who can influence the public on the high spiritual level of energy without struggling to be one in the way it’s showing.
      They could of been the Artists, but not in the presence and control of shadowy industry illuminating all competitions for them behind their shoulders – killing the others !

    • Nick says:

      Let them say whatever they want about ‘skinny’ and the rest….. Yuja Wang IS a phenomenal artist. Whatever she wears does not change the essential thing: SHE IS AN ARTIST OF GREAT MERIT! What she wears id just HER business! And you are right again, kh: ‘if Trifonov….’ — a boring nobody propelled by PR into the world orbit can(not)…
      then Ms. Wang most certainly should open the Carnegie season.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    The average music lover, i.e. the person who consistently attends concerts, most likely cannot afford 10K for a night out. And they are the people who matter most, should our beloved art form survive.

    For them, she divides opinions. I am not convinced, but she has knowledgeable fans. Fair enough.

    But her selection for a 10K event only means that she’s marketable. Nothing more.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Valid points. But the woman has great virtuosity and musical intelligence. Dazzling dexterity. As yet, I haven’t detected any evolution in her style or musical thoughtfulness. Maybe that will come later, with more experience.

      With the sheer volume of music in her repertoire I’m asking has she seriously had time to go back to the scores and examine them more closely, or is she listening to other great performances in recordings?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Those are for the general populace

      • Stephen Owades says:

        What does that mean? A gala ticket for $10k presumably includes a fancy reception, but tickets to hear the concert itself were much more reasonable. Is there something morally objectionable about fancy receptions?

      • Brian from D.C. says:

        NL sounds like a recent US president caught with his facts down. Tickets to “$10 grand a seat” concert really mostly cost $68 to $225. “False News!”

  • Couperin says:

    Streaming for free! Go to Philly Orchestra website!

    I’m watching to see Yuja rock out, and also to see Yannick stink up the joint.


  • Amos says:

    I recently watched a video of her performing the Prokofiev 3rd with CA at the 2009 Lucerne Festival. Compared to any number of first-rate pianists & conductors, MA/CA & GG/GS to name 2, I found her performance a prime example of light-weight surface skimming. Clearly technically gifted but little else.

  • Sibelius says:

    I’ve recorded a bit with Yuja and though initially sceptic I have to say she is the real deal. Not for everything but post 1900 she is great.

  • MacroV says:

    Huh? Like her or not, there’s no question she’s among the biggest (and I assume highest-paid) pianists in the business, a regular guest and collaborator with the world’s A-list orchestras and conductors. This isn’t the event for an equally great but less-celebrity pianist.

  • V. Lind says:

    I don’t see what her spirituality, or lack thereof, has to do with ANYTHING. And in most circles, she is known for her musicianship. Is that an “externality”?

    And the only discussion of her attire was generated by posts by the only person able to make them — this is a blog, not a discussion board, where the commenters start the conversations and choose the topics.

    Yuja Wang is a talented, popular and LOCAL artist. Why not her?

  • fliszt says:

    Who is going to pay $10K to hear her play Shostakovich #2? If she were playing Brahms #2, then maybe…

  • debuschubertussy says:

    Musically speaking, opening night galas rarely amount to anything substantial or memorable, and, to be honest, this looks like more of the same lightweight fare that typifies such events. Trifonov has plenty to keep him busy anyway.

    • Tony Sanderson says:

      I had always been taught to believe that Beethoven’s Fifth was won of the great masterpieces of the symphonic genre. I don’t think Klemperer, Furtwängler, von Karajan, Toscanini or Leonard Bernstein thought it lightweight. Here’s Lenny


      A masterpiece is brilliantly discussed.

      • debuschubertussy says:

        Certainly Beethoven’s 5 is a masterpiece, but let’s face it, it’s a pretty “safe” choice as far as programming goes, and most orchestras and conductors auto-pilot their way through it with little rehearsal beforehand. Perfect for a gala event.

  • justin says:

    For those who regularly dole out $10K for an evening of entertainment, Yuja is just another commodity, classical music just another medium, Carnegie Hall just another space.

    For them, mostly middle aged men, it could be a strip club on Times Square or a museum on Fifth Avenue; the Met Gala cost $35K a head for wilted salad and shriveled mushrooms.

  • AnnaT says:

    “more known for externality than spirituality”

    Norman, I’m starting to feel concerned about you.

  • John Renehan says:

    Yuga Wang is a very good classical pianist in among many thousands of throughout the world . Her sexy clothes have no doubt helped her get some of the notoriety she has ; but her interpretations of many classical masterworks are less impressive than her reputation suggests ….. But full points to her for raising the somwhat stuffy reputation of classical music

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I cannot believe her virtuosity and dexterity. Where does that come from? With the Chopin Competition full swing there seem to be lots of pianists who fit this description but very few of them having that ‘little something extra; that little bell of pleasure that rings when you hear it’ (“A Star is Born”, 1953).

  • M2N2K says:

    As usual, Yuja Wang played beautifully and brilliantly, but the CH tattoo was unnecessary. Let’s hope she will not get into habit of adorning herself with initials of every venue in which she will be performing from now on.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Brilliant musician, but sadly a fully subscribed member of Generation Narcissist. This will come back to haunt her, unfortunately.

  • Morgan says:

    This is a benefit ‘gala’ to raise funds for the Hall. Most of the cost of the tickets are tax deductible.

    The slights and not-so-subtle innuendo toward Yuja beg for more civil respect. Are you moonlighting for The Daily Star or The NY Post?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I didn’t discern anything disrespectful; perhaps you are overly sensitive to any form of criticism and believe that the performing arts are to be excluded from that??

      I don’t hold the slightest doubt that Yuja Wang will go from strength to strength, irrespective of critiques about her, here or elsewhere.

  • Genius Repairman says:

    There are certain pieces I have heard Yuja play that in my opinion have been the best or amongst the best I have heard. Check out her Rac 3, Rac 2 and her Berlin Recital disc. Her reading of the piano transcription of the Erlkonig (sic) is mind blowing.

  • Mark says:

    Actually, her rendition of Shostakovich was good (this is the kind of repertoire she does well). But Yannick’s Beethoven 5th was beyond awful.

  • Monty Earleman says:

    “Known more for externality than spirituality”??? Only by you, Norm!

  • In Europe’s social democracies, it would be a $10 opening directed toward common people.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      It’s a fund raiser and a place to be seen. Most ‘common people’ in our un-social plutocracy know to wait until after the home opener. If it’s going to be televised, then why the fuss.

    • Anon says:

      First of all, it wouldn”t be happening. There’s no need for “gala fundraising concerts” for government funded arts organizations.

      Secondly, if such a concert were to be programmed for “the common people”, it would be subject to the control of musically illiterate politicians. That often doesn’t end well.

      There’s a down side to the arts in Europe’s “social democracies”, too, William.

      Best example who comes to mind is the great opera empresario Gerard Mortier. He fled NYC Opera, leaving it in tatters, after great hopes of reviving the organization under the US’s private funding system. He had artistic control and overspent the company into its own demise.

      He decided Europe had a better system, being able to tap into govt. funding for the arts. He took the job of Intendant at Madrid’s Teatro Real Opera. It started well. I heard him speak at the beginning of his tenure there. He was asked the question; “which is better – public or privately funded opera?” His failure at the privately funded NYC Opera was barely behind him and he was bitter . He was right with you at that time, William “Oh, by all means, govt. funded opera is a superior system!”. He had all the money he needed for his elaborate projects.

      But little by little, the politicians responsible for funding Teatro Real began to question Mortier’s extravagance. It got very ugly. Mortier was unceremoniously fired. He was replaced with a more politician-compliant Intendant. Mortier died, in disgrace, not long after.

      A few years later, the situation repeated itself when the legendary opera manager Helga Schmidt was hired to lead the new Les Artes Opera in Valencia, Spain. Like Mortier, it started well. Politicians gave her free rein. But it ended with Frau Schmidt, a world class opera empresaria , was hauled off by police and tried in court because local politicians felt that she had violated the govt. controlled rules of hiring practices and salary quotas of the company. Like Mortier, she died in disgrace, not long after.

      Those are just 2 examples of how arts organizations which are govt. funded can backfire with devastating consequences.

      William, the arts organizations of “Europe’s social democracies” are controlled by politicians, who may or may not understand anything about music. These organizations are funded by taxpayers who also want a say in how their money is spent. Everything from hiring to firing to salaries to work conditions is controlled by these politicians. Musicians who work for publicly funded arts organizations are literally owned by the government. And salaries are a fraction of what US private organizations pay. Why do you think so many Europeans try for jobs in the US?

      I’m not saying public funding is bad, but it’s not the pie in the sky which you make it out to be. There are good points but there are also disadvantages. If Gerard Mortier or Helga Schmidt could speak now, they would definitely share with you the bad points.

      • MWnyc says:

        Gerard Mortier never spent a cent at City Opera. He never actually started the job.

        If there’s one individual most responsible for City Opera’s fate, it’s former board chair Susan Baker.

        On the other hand, the company’s finances were always very shaky: the only time they were secure was the few years after Beverly Sills (an extraordinary fundraiser) stabilized them.

      • Mortier is something of an anomaly and not particularly relevant to comparisons of private donor vs. public arts funding systems. Here is a relevant and telling fact: The USA has one fulltime opera house and ranks 39th in the world for opera performances per capita. Germany has 83 full time houses. (Even though it only has one quarter the population of the USA.) And in Germany, the tickets for opera are about one third to one quarter the price. The situation is similar in most of Europe due to public funding and social democracy.

        • Anon says:

          Gerard Mortier and Helga Schmidt were both mortal victims of public arts funding systems, IMHO. Very relevant to this discussion.

          William, I respect your passion for Germany. But Germany is one country in Europe. It is a shining example of what can be achieved with publicly funded arts, but it is not typical of all European countries.

          Publicly funded arts systems also include those in poor Eastern European countries where musicians work under atrocious conditions for paupers’ wages. Countries where orchestras are pimped out to foreign filmmakers who can record soundtracks for a pittance. Or auctioned off to wealthy Americans who pay to conduct and solo with them. If you follow the Orchestra List you’ve seen the ads. Those orchestras are in countries with publicly funded arts systems.

          Not all politicians are as knowledgeable about music and as sympathetic to the arts as Angela Merkel.

          Southern European countries have publicly funded arts systems. They also often have corrupt &/or musically ignorant politicians who are in charge of that public funding. A simple election can change who manages an orchestra or opera company.

          Germany is not all of Europe, William. It is one of a few privileged countries in Europe which have exemplary publicly funded arts systems. Saying that every single public arts system in Europe is exemplary is kind of like saying that every state in the US must be just like Florida.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          First of all, the geographic size of the USA means that a comparative ‘one-shoe-fits-all’ approach is counter-intuitive. Secondly, the majority of northern Europeans are closeted during winter in freezing temperatures – which has facilitated the rise of musicians, music schools and concert venues. During those months theirs is an inside world. Thirdly, those are the countries which gave birth to the musical heritage we all enjoy and, as such, ought to be protecting that legacy but making it accessible to as wide a demographic as possible. Since Europe hasn’t adopted the role of ‘policeman of the world’ they’re probably in a better financial position to be able to make music affordable in ways the USA is not.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Gawd!! People can be ‘common’ with money and status; just so you know. They’re called PARVENUS.

    • Nick says:

      No, it would not, not really, william!!!

  • mary says:

    I saw the concert on the orchestra’s live streaming.

    1) Nezet-Seguin is indulging so much in the “Philadelphia sound” that it is this consistently syrupy soft-edged sound.

    2) Thus his Beethoven 5 is the most soporific performance I’ve ever heard, especially with his penchant for stretching and relaxing the tempo here and there, and his ritardandos and diminuendos at end of phrases, even in the first movement.

    3) Thus his Candide has no snap and no sparkle, just a consistent low boil.

    4) The new black on black look is not good. They do look like a bunch of mafioso.

    5) And it looked like Nezet-Seguin forgot his pants and had to fashion one out of aluminum foil backstage, lol.

  • Wannaplayguitar says:

    Folks, folks….all the world’s a stage and we are vying for our 15 minutes (or more) upon it. Whatever it takes,(classical musicians not exempt) we do what we must, to keep up the interest and the $$$ rolling in. If this means wearing a wisp of fig leaf whilst pounding Prokofiev, well look away if you don’t like it.

  • Paul Sekhri says:

    She’s a huge talent and brings it all, virtuosity, musicality, and a lovely person to boot. Why shouldn’t she open a Carnegie Hall gala?

  • YR says:

    Facts anyone? You could have gotten a $65 tickets for yesterday concert and $1,500 for the after concert galla dinner. The concert and Yuja Wang were amazing! Great program for opening night.

  • MWnyc says:

    I was there. Yuja’s dress was attractive but not particularly remarkable; she played quite well.

    Yes, Yannick’s Beethoven 5th was weird in places (and not at all like he’s done it before), but the rest of the concert was very good. Valerie Coleman’s Seven O’Clock Shout is delightful.

  • Karin Becker says:

    Ms. Wang, at the age of 24, laid naked on a Steinway grand piano, covered only by the page of a score. I conclude that she has an intensive desire to show off her body. She has been doing this for many years by the help of outfits that require little fabric. She uses the stage as a catwalk in her concerts, especially in recitals. Only 158 cm tall, she stalks to the grand piano on extremely high stilettos, often making a fool of herself
    in the process.

    YW has made a contribution to musical culture in recent years.
    I think she has revolutionised the organization and the process of recitals in particular: After the first part, she changes her wardrobe; she appears for the performance of the second half of the concert in a different outfit, always with high-heels.

    Ms. Wang inspires music critics: there is hardly a review that does not discuss her clothes. And that is precisely what is revolutionary: Ms. Wang has succeeded in making important, the secondary matter, the important, the main thing.

    • Mystic Chord says:

      Perhaps those puritans who are so obsessed with what female classical musicians should or shouldn’t wear could check in for some therapy and then we could actually make music the focus of discussion for a change.

    • gds555 says:

      Am I correct in assuming that this lying naked on a Steinway while covered only by a page of score was for a photo? Where can the photo be found? I’ve never seen or heard of it.

      As for Yuja’s height, your implication that 158 cm, or about 5’2¼”, is freakishly short is incorrect. The average American female height is about 161.5 cm, or slightly over 5’3½”, with Yuja’s height being at about the 30th percentile; so I’d say she’s within what could be considered the normal height range of the nation in which she resides.

  • Ruth says:

    It was so wonderful to be at Carnegie Hall for the first time in so long, and to see one of my favorite pianist Yuga Wang doing do an absolutely beautiful job with the Shostakovich. I was a bit disappointing that there was no encore from her, but with no intermission, I see why. Why can’t everyone just enjoy being out and listening to beautiful “live” music and escape the world for an hour and a half? I thoroughly enjoyed my evening, looking forward to coming back 🙂

  • Ruth says:

    And by the way, she can pull off her style because she has the musical “chops” behind her. Classical pianists in the past and present have been so conservative, it’s nice to see her step out of that box so to speak. Refreshing!

  • Yaroslav says:

    I wouldn’t care (sort of) about her street worker outfits if she were a musician from God. She’s a perfect (actually, possibly, best in the world) technical machine with no true musicianship whatsoever.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    consumption = squandering

    Yuja Wang’s marketing of luxury goods is revolting.

  • violafan says:

    Norman, you are obsessed with her. It’s gross and creepy.

    Do you just make shit up to put on your greasy rag of a website now?

  • BRUCEB says:

    Don’t know if this has been addressed already, but Carnegie has Jonas Kaufman (nearly sold out) and Lang Lang (sold out) in the next week.

    Kaufman is or is not a very fine singer, depending on your opinion; but Fischer-Dieskau he ain’t. Likewise Lang Lang is no Radu Lupu. I’m not, or not only, talking about musical depth but rather about approach to performing.

    It’s pretty clear where Carnegie Hall’s priorities lie at the moment.

    That said, there’s nothing wrong with trying to sell tickets. (And anyway, Carnegie and every other venue has always been like this: some art, some commerce.)

  • Robert Werblin says:

    I was there and for well under $100 per tkt. The entire concert was terrific and Ms. Wang was her usual fabulous self. As her British accent manager once said, referring to a critic who was always deprecating her for her attire, “he should pay attention to her artistry rather than her arse!”

  • Anon says:

    I’m an old phart myself, late 60s. But I’m really in ‘awe’ of the many commenters here who seem fossilized and puritanical. You guys are why classical music lovers are so often disparaged: Stuffed shirts, judgmental windbags who, like the Monday-morning-quarterbacks you are, feel you are qualified to pass judgment on great artists who possess more gifts than you could ever hope for. I also happen to be a successful professional musician, and can tell you that Ms. Wang’s artistry is the real deal. These comments about her technical equipment but lack of ‘musicianship’ reek of the old tropes about Asian musicians. (Not to mention the many nasty remarks about her nontraditional concert attire- made largely by women who would probably haunt several houses if THEY wore such outfits…) To make my point, watch her performance of the Brahms B-flat concerto online. Then go back in your caves and don’t come out until you can offer the world something comparable.

  • Ricardo42 says:

    Well said! What a lot of negative twittering. No real nod to the absolute intensity and emotion Yuja experiences while playing. She’s a delight to watch as well as listen to.