Classical music

Why Yuja Wang will be equal to challenge of Brahms concerto

Performances with the Hong Kong Philharmonic will complete Chinese pianist's Triptych concert series, which has demonstrated her formidable range

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 June, 2015, 10:11am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 June, 2015, 11:54am

Pianist Yuja Wang completes her Hong Kong "Tryptich" with performances on June 19 and 20 with the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Wang, 28, is one of a generation of classical concert and recording artists to have been marketed as much on sex appeal as talent, but it is notable that even the most drooling of her many euphoric reviews never suggest that her looks rather than her playing are the principal reason for her success.

The Tryptich programme of concerts has demonstrated her formidable range. It began with Mozart's Piano Concerto No 9 with the orchestra, and was followed by a solo recital of compositions by Scriabin (a composer whose works she has recorded on two CDs), Chopin and Balakirev.

The Brahms concerto does not yet feature in her discography, although she did record his Variations on a Theme by Paganini for her 2010 CD Transformation, and has recorded the complete Brahms violin and piano sonatas with violinist Leonidas Kavakos.

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The concerto is a monumental work which the composer took three years to complete, and which he performed himself in the concert halls of Europe to critical acclaim. A gap of more then 20 years separated Brahms' second piano concerto from his first, which had been less enthusiastically received. He appears to have been determined that the critical failure was not to be repeated, and his confidence in the work once completed is clear from some disingenuous self-deprecation in his correspondence.

The work ... is ... notable for the demands it places on the pianist in responding sympathetically to the orchestra as well as for bravura solo passages, and in terms of sheer stamina. There is not much doubt that Wang will be equal to its challenges

"I have written a tiny little piano concerto with a little wisp of a scherzo," he wrote to a friend.

In fact, the work in four movements rather than the traditional three — Allegro non troppo, Allegro appassionato, Andante and Allegro grazioso — is a landmark in the piano and orchestra repertoire, and notable for the demands it places on the pianist in responding sympathetically to the orchestra as well as for bravura solo passages, and in terms of sheer stamina.

There is not much doubt that Wang will be equal to its challenges. The Beijing-born pianist studied at China's Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing under Ling Yuan and Zhou Guangren then undertook further studies with Hung-Kuan Chen and Tema Blackstone at the Mount Royal College Conservatory in Canada.

Hong Kong hits all the right notes for Yuja Wang

After winning the Aspen Music Festival's concerto competition she moved to the US to complete her studies with Gary Graffman at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, from which she graduated in 2008. In 2006 she received the Gilmore Young Artist Award, and in 2010 was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant.

Wang has performed with the New York Philharmonic and Lorin Maazel in Japan and Korea; in the US with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Sir Neville Marriner, and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel; and with the London Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Harding in China. She has also performed with the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and NHK Symphony orchestras. Her latest recording, which will be of French music, is scheduled to be released in October.

Expect pianist Yuja Wang to create magic

Her interpretation of the Brahms concerto is the highlight of a programme that also includes the HK Phil, under the baton of Jaap van Zweden, performing Debussy's La Mer and Ravel's Bolero.

Much attention will doubtless also be paid to the pianist's choice of dress.

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, 10 Salisbury Road, TST, June 19 and 20, 8pm, HK$220-HK$680 Urbtix. Inquiries: 2721 2332