“Wang played with exceptional power, depth and dazzle … What seemed the most impressive was the focus. Once each performance started, all else seemed to fall away … She can count on being – and was to an exceptional degree – musically apt.”
The Los Angeles Times reviewing Yuja Wang’s recent Rachmaninoff concert series with the LA Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel (February 2023)
Yuja Wang is widely recognised as one of the most important artists of her generation, both for her supreme musicianship and her ability to captivate audiences of all ages. Reviewers have hailed the emotional honesty and profound intelligence of her interpretations, and the charismatic power of her stage presence. Despite her prodigious virtuosity and technical control, however, the pianist believes technique should never be an end in itself, that it should always serve the cause of emotional expression and musical interpretation. Her artistic credo is ultimately both simple and extraordinarily complex: “I want to relate all life to music,” she once told the Observer (London).
Yuja Wang was born into a musical family in Beijing on 10 February 1987. As an infant, she watched her mother, a dancer, rehearse Swan Lake. The experience resonated long after her first encounter with Tchaikovsky. She began picking out melodies on the piano at home, her parents’ wedding gift, and received her first piano lessons at the age of six. Rapid progress led to a place at the Beijing Conservatory. Yuja’s musical and personal development accelerated in 1999 when she moved to Canada to join the Morningside Music summer programme at Calgary’s Mount Royal College; she soon became the youngest ever student at Mount Royal Conservatory. In 2002 Wang 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.
Wang’s professional career was already underway by the time she graduated from Curtis in May 2008. 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 First Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Since then, she has maintained a busy schedule, performing with 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, Lorin Maazel, Neville Marriner, Zubin Mehta, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Sir Antonio Pappano, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Yuri Temirkanov, Michael Tilson Thomas and Pinchas Zukerman. Her star status was underlined when she was named by Musical America as its Artist of the Year 2017, one of the world’s most prestigious awards for classical music.
“I get to know my repertoire by doing,” observes Yuja Wang. “I need to perform to feel alive. Every time it’s different, it’s organic.” The spontaneity and vision of her playing are reflected in her acclaimed Deutsche Grammophon discography. Having signed an exclusive contract with DG in January 2009, she has gone on to record a series of critically acclaimed albums. Following the release of Sonatas & Etudes, her solo debut recording (April 2009), 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 Rachmaninoff’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, offered a collection of encore pieces by Albéniz, Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns, Scriabin and others. This was followed by a live recording of Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 and Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. Issued in 2015, Yuja Wang: Ravel, recorded with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich and Lionel Bringuier, pairs Ravel’s two piano concertos with Fauré’s Ballade. Captured live, The Berlin Recital (2018) explores the expressive worlds of solo works by Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Scriabin and Ligeti. The album won that year’s Gramophone Award in the Instrumental category.
Yuja Wang’s world premiere recording of John Adams’ Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, made live with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel, came out in 2020. Wang’s interpretation of the new piano concerto, commissioned by the orchestra and written for her, earned her the Opus Klassik Concerto Recording of the Year/Piano award. The following year, the pianist released her first album with her “super trio” chamber colleagues Gautier Capuçon and Andreas Ottensamer, featuring landmark works by Rachmaninoff and Brahms.
Her latest album is The American Project, which presents the world premiere recording of a major new piano concerto written for her by Teddy Abrams. Also featuring Michael Tilson Thomas’s improvisatory You Come Here Often?, the album was made with the Louisville Orchestra, conducted by Abrams, its Music Director. The American Project will be released in March 2023.
A major highlight of Wang’s 2022–23 season so far was the world premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at Davies Symphony Hall with the San Francisco Symphony and Esa-Pekka Salonen last October. The work was written expressly for her, and both the premiere and subsequent performances in Toronto and New York were met with huge critical acclaim (reviewing one of the New York concerts, Bachtrack praised her “ability to convey a poetic quality to passages that many pianists might just find too difficult to play”).
She has also, as part of 2023’s Rachmaninoff 150 celebrations, performed all four piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini across two evenings at Kimmel Center with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Seguin, twice in short succession (26 & 27 January and 4 & 5 February, with the Rhapsody included in all four programmes). In between, on 28 January, the same musicians took part in a “once-in-a-lifetime” event which saw them present all five works in a single concert at Carnegie Hall. This musical marathon too garnered rave reviews, with The New York Times calling Wang’s music-making throughout “calmly dazzling”. In February the pianist travelled to LA to perform the same repertoire over a series of concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel as part of their Rachmaninoff Festival – these appearances were filmed by DG and Piano Concerto No. 1 will be streamed on STAGE+ on 1 April 2023.
Yuja Wang’s upcoming engagements include Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony and Salonen in Paris, Luxembourg and Hamburg (March); the Second Piano Concerto with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich and Paavo Järvi in Zürich (also March); and further performances of the Lindberg Concerto with different orchestras and conductors in Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Lyon, Hamburg, Rome, London and Brighton (April-May).