Yuja Wang gives a dazzling solo performance in the world premiere recording of a major new work specially written for her by her friend Teddy Abrams. Although originally conceived as a short companion composition to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Abrams’ Piano Concerto blossomed to become a 35-minute standalone showpiece. Celebrating the richness of America’s musical culture and the sheer depth and breadth of Yuja Wang’s virtuosity, the work now features on Yuja Wang · The American Project. Also included on the album is You Come Here Often?, created for the star pianist by another close friend, Michael Tilson Thomas. Both were recorded live with the Louisville Orchestra, conducted by Abrams, its Music Director. Yuja Wang · The American Project is set for digital and physical release by Deutsche Grammophon on 10 March 2023.
Teddy Abrams and Yuja Wang met during their student days at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, one of the world’s leading conservatoires. The highly versatile Abrams – pianist, clarinettist, composer and conductor – and the then rising-star pianist became friends at the time, after he volunteered to accompany her in piano-only play-throughs of the standard concerto repertoire. Following his appointment as Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra in 2014, he began writing large-scale works for its musicians. “It was,” he recalls, “the beginning of a really special relationship that we have retained to this day.”
Abrams’ list of Louisville compositions grew following a discussion with Wang about her performing Rhapsody in Blue with the orchestra. His Piano Concerto is constructed in eleven sections, including a swing-style big band overture, three solo cadenzas, a Gershwinesque “orchestra break”, the Latin jazz-inspired “Solos” and passages that echo boogie-woogie, American gospel tunes or Broadway showstoppers. Yuja Wang joined the Louisville Orchestra and Abrams for the work’s world premiere at the Kentucky Center in January 2022 and stayed on to record the piece for Deutsche Grammophon.
“The piano, in particular, is a kind of wanderer that makes it through hundreds of years of musical history, and is so translatable to other styles,” observes Teddy Abrams. “I see this concerto as an opportunity for the piano to guide us through what I think is one of the strengths of American culture, its plurality, its interconnectedness.” His Piano Concerto reflects America’s abiding affection for star performers with heart and soul. “I think Yuja’s one of the greatest pianists alive, and of all time,” he notes. “I always intended for her to be the one to take this piece and make it her own.”
Abrams received his first conducting lessons from Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco at the age of eleven. The conductor, himself a fine pianist and distinguished composer, became his long-term mentor and friend. Tilson Thomas also encouraged Yuja Wang at the start of her career. He enlarged her stock of encores in 2016 with You Come Here Often?, which serves as the opening track of her new album. The piece grows from a simple rhythmic riff into a jazz fusion number complete with reflective episodes and rock-fuelled dash to the finish line.