On Fire: Yuja Wang

Whether you follow classical music or not, you have probably heard of Yuja Wang. She’s earned recognition as one of the best young pianists in the world. In fact, her passionate artistry and technique once prompted New York Times music critic Allan Kozinn to write, “She seems to have everything: speed, flexibility, pianistic thunder and interpretive nuance.” Nuance is an apt description for the 28-year-old Dior-wearing, iPad-toting musician. At only 28, she displays an electrifying modern-day complexity for her age: she’s just as comfortable at the piano bench playing Prokofiev’s “Second Piano Concerto” with the great orchestras of the world as she is tweeting quotes from Coco Chanel. Her sense of style has inspired fashion spreads in Italian Vogue, French Elle and Chinese Marie Claire. The Internet loves her, too: a dizzying YouTube video of her playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” has been viewed over 4 million times. She navigates between being a Steinway artist and a Rolex brand ambassador with a grace that few modern-day musicians have mastered — or have ever needed to master. She is serious and focused, yet relaxed and even a little rebellious.

BLOG_Yuja-Wang-Photo-by-Norbert-Kniat-DG-11

Photo by Norbert Kniat

Homes & Estates magazine caught up with the jetsetting Wang, in between performances, for a recent story called “Force of Nature.” We are delighted to include the interview in its entirety here.

Previews Inside Out You have a new album on Deutsche Grammophon, “Yuja Wang — Ravel,” with Bringuier and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, coming out in October. Tell us about that.

Yuja Wang Yes. The album includes Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G Major” and “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand,” as well as Fauré’s “Ballade in F-sharp Major” for piano solo. The “G Major Concerto” is playful, almost like Mozart, while the left hand concerto makes me think of a drunken version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Ravel pushes his motifs and rhythms to the point of no return, until they almost seem to collapse. The Fauré ballade is very special to me because its orchestral version was the first work that I played with an orchestra. Lionel Bringuier and the Tonhalle are so fantastic in this repertoire, and I think listeners will really enjoy the album.

Previews Inside Out Why did you decide to make a recording with Bringuier at this stage of your career?

Yuja Wang Lionel and I have worked together since we were both teenagers, and it’s so natural performing and recording together. The Tonhalle Orchestra invited me to be their inaugural artist-in-residence for Lionel’s first season as chief conductor and music director, and I had so much fun with them. Lionel has an exceptional sensibility for Ravel’s music — it feels so natural, yet fresh.

Previews Inside Out You’ve said before that you don’t like recording but prefer live performances. Why is that?

Yuja Wang Recordings capture just a slice in time, a snapshot of how we feel about a particular work at any given moment. But the way I approached Mozart when I was a student and the way I play him now are completely different. I play Scriabin one way today, but this could completely change in a recital down the line. Recordings remind you of this variety, and for that reason, I feel that they’re so valuable and such a source of pleasure. In a different way, live performances are some of the best parts of life — they’re always changing.

Previews Inside Out In terms of process, how do you prepare for a live performance?

Yuja Wang At this point, I just do it — and practice. A lot.

Previews Inside Out What’s playing on your iPod before a concert?

Yuja Wang I’m usually warming up on the piano before a concert, but I’m a big hip-hop fan.

Previews Inside Out How do you make your gown selections?

Yuja Wang I wear gowns that don’t get in my way. I have to move a lot, so I have to feel free; and the stage can get very hot, so I need to stay cool.

Previews Inside Out Your wardrobe choices have raised eyebrows in the past. Are you starting to see the fashion rules ease a bit since you came onto the scene?

Yuja Wang I think that people should wear whatever they feel good in, and that’s what I try to do. Some people get dressed up for special occasions. For me, a concert is a unique experience, and I like to do the same.

Previews Inside Out Who are your favorite designers?

Yuja Wang There are too many to name, but I love Dior, Cavalli, Brian Atwood and Louboutin.

Previews Inside Out You have now partnered with nearly all the world’s foremost orchestras — which one was most memorable to you (and why?)

Yuja Wang They’ve all been so incredible and memorable, but I just made my debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, which was pretty cool (and intimidating!).

Previews Inside Out Which musicians have had the biggest influence on you?

Yuja Wang All kinds. I love listening to Leonard Bernstein, Rihanna, Vladimir Horowitz, Tord Gustavsen and Carlos Kleiber.

Previews Inside Out For the 2015–2016 season, you’re going to be joining Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony on their European Festivals Tour, performing Beethoven and Bartók at London’s BBC Proms, the Edinburgh, Rheingau, Lucerne and Enescu festivals, and in Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Paris. What are you most looking forward to on this tour?

Yuja Wang I love working with MTT and the San Francisco Symphony, and we’ve performed a lot together. In fact, MTT and I just performed for the Queen earlier this year with the London Symphony Orchestra. Unforgettable! But with the SFS, it’s so exciting to be taking on Bartók and Beethoven with musicians with whom you share a history.

Previews Inside Out You travel so often — which cities inspire you most musically?

Yuja Wang That’s tough! Berlin is amazing. New York, where I live, is great. And I will always love Paris — who doesn’t? In Berlin, the community is so international, and I love the lifestyle. But Paris is so beautiful. It’s hard not to be amazed just walking around. But every city brings with it a new set of people, and people make the music.

Previews Inside Out When you are not traveling, where is home for you?

Yuja Wang You should see my place in New York. My Steinway almost takes up my entire living room.

Previews Inside Out Is there a venue that you feel most at home?

Yuja Wang There are so many, but Carnegie Hall is so beautiful and such a joy to perform in. Perhaps, also, my teacher Gary Graffman’s studio in New York.

Previews Inside Out What is it like performing on your home turf in China? Is it different for you?

Yuja Wang Audiences can change so much, depending on where I am. Of course, in China, where classical music is always relatively new, listeners respond differently, but that’s what keeps you on your toes as a performer.

Previews Inside Out What’s your greatest luxury?

Yuja Wang A week without having to get on an airplane!