Yuja Wang - Biography

Whenever Yuja Wang makes music, her soul opens to reveal depths of understanding. Her pianism blends abundant power with exquisite lightness, scintillating dexterity with heart-melting lyricism, and crystal clarity with transcendent beauty, qualities combined in a mesmerizing process of artistic alchemy. She is widely recognized as one of the most important artists of her generation, both for her supreme musicianship and her ability to captivate audiences of all ages. “Hers is a nonchalant, brilliant keyboard virtuosity that would have made both Prokofiev (who was a great pianist) and even the fabled Horowitz jealous,” observed the Los Angeles Times in its review of the 28-year-old pianist’s recent appearance at the Hollywood Bowl.

Yuja Wang’s prodigious virtuosity and technical control command critical appreciation; she is also regularly praised for the clarity of her musical insight, the freshness of her interpretations and charismatic power of her stage presence. She believes that technique should never be an end in itself, that it should always serve the cause of emotional expression and musical interpretation. Above all she is devoted to cultivating and communicating her complete affinity with the works in her broad repertoire. “Virtuosic scores are not necessarily about a flashy style”, declares Wang. “When I am excited about a piece, and the more it connects to my personality, the better I can play it and grip the audience.”

Yuja Wang was born into a musical family in Beijing on 10 February 1987. She received her first piano lessons at the age of six and made rapid progress after she became a student at the Beijing Conservatory. Young Yuja’s musical and personal development gathered momentum in 1999 when she moved to Canada to join the Morningside Music summer programme at Calgary’s Mount Royal College; she went on to become the youngest ever student at Mount Royal Conservatory. In 2002 she won the Aspen Music Festival’s concerto competition; she also enrolled to study with the distinguished concert pianist and teacher Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Graffman recalls that he was struck by the “intelligence and good taste” of the 15-year-old’s audition performances.

By the time Wang graduated from the Curtis Institute in May 2008, her professional career was already underway. She attracted media attention in Canada in 2005 following her sensational debut with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, prompting one newspaper to headline its review, “A star is born”. Her international breakthrough came in March 2007, when she replaced Martha Argerich at short notice as soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The pianist’s meteoric rise since has taken place in company with many of the world’s leading orchestras and at the most prestigious concert venues. She has given concerto performances with such prominent conductors as Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Gustavo Dudamel, Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev, Lorin Maazel, Sir Neville Marriner, Zubin Mehta, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Sir Antonio Pappano, Yuri Temirkanov, Michael Tilson Thomas and Pinchas Zukerman.

“I have always performed,” observes Yuja Wang. “I get to know my repertoire by doing. I need to perform to feel alive. Every time it’s different, it’s organic.” The spontaneity and vision of the pianist’s playing is reflected in her acclaimed discography for Deutsche Grammophon. Since signing an exclusive contract with the yellow label in January 2009, she has recorded a series of landmark albums. Following the release in 2009 of Sonatas & Etudes, her solo debut recording, Gramophone named her “Young Artist of the Year”. Wang received the Echo Award as “Young Artist of the Year” for her 2010 album, Transformation, a carefully constructed solo programme featuring Brahms, Ravel, Scarlatti and Stravinsky. Her 2011 release of Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto and “Paganini Rhapsody” with Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, was nominated for a Grammy® as “Best Classical Instrumental Solo”. Fantasia, released in 2012, offers a collection of encore pieces by Albéniz, Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Saint-Saëns, Scriabin and others. This was followed by a live recording of Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 and Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 3 with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. Her latest Deutsche Grammophon recording, Yuja Wang: Ravel, with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich and Lionel Bringuier, is set for release in October 2015.

In 2011 Wang made her solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall. In its review, the New York Times commended her “magisterial and dazzling performance” of Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B minor, among the greatest of all nineteenth-century piano pieces. She has returned to Carnegie Hall every season since, attracting capacity audiences and prompting standing ovations at each performance. Recent career milestones include an extensive tour of Japan in 2013, complete with her recital debut at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall; an “Artist Portrait” series with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2013-14; and her concerto debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in May 2015. As a chamber musician Wang has developed partnerships with several other leading artists, notably with Leonidas Kavakos, with whom she has toured and recorded the complete violin sonatas of Brahms.

Yuja Wang launches her 2015-16 season in partnership with the San Francisco Symphony and Tilson Thomas as part of the orchestra’s “European Festivals Tour”, performing works by Bartók and Beethoven at the BBC Proms, the Edinburgh, Rheingau, Lucerne, and Enescu festivals, and in Amsterdam, Luxembourg, and Paris. She will also perform the complete cycle of Brahms’s violin sonatas with Kavakos at the Edinburgh International Festival and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.2 on an Asia tour with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Gustavo Gimeno. Other highlights of 2015-16 include Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony with the New York Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen, and with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra under Dudamel, in Caracas and throughout Europe. In February 2016 Wang is set to join Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.9 “Jeunehomme” and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.2 during the orchestra’s twenty-fifth anniversary tour to the United States. She will also perform Mozart’s “Jeunehomme” in Munich and Paris for her debut with the Wiener Philharmoniker, given under the direction of Valery Gergiev.