YUJA WANG GOES FOR GOLD

Yuja Wang.jpg

This Season: the fastest fingers at the piano belong to Yuja Wang. Michael Church expects to be dazzled at the Verbier Festival...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, July/August 2012

If the Olympics had a keyboard category, there’s no question who would win it. When Evgeny Kissin heard Yuja Wang’s blistering performance at Verbier two years ago, his admiring comment was that even her compatriot Lang Lang could eat his heart out, because in terms of technique there wasn’t anything this phenomenal young woman couldn’t do—seemingly without effort. From a cultivated Muslim home, Wang (pictured) began her piano studies at Beijing conservatory, where she stayed until she won a competition in Calgary at 14. She then enrolled as a top-flight student at the Curtis in Philadelphia: now, at 25, she has an American college-girl manner, and bridles when pigeonholed as a Chinese pianist.

Deputising in turn for those keyboard greats Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Kissin and Daniel Barenboim, she exploded onto the international circuit, with her first two CDs confirming her extraordinary talent; her latest, a collection of encores, is a flawless extension of the photogenic charm which has made her a marketing executive’s dream. But as her recent recital at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall revealed, she doesn’t yet have the musical wisdom required for Beethoven: prestidigitation is only the beginning of great pianism. At Verbier on Aug 3rd she will dazzle with Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Ravel; for those who can’t be there, her YouTube performances make a fine second-best.

Verbier Festival July 20th to Aug 5th. verbierfestival.com

CLASSICAL AT A GLANCE

BBC Proms (Royal Albert Hall, London, to Sept 8th). There’s an emphasis on Britishness and celebrity in this Olympic/Jubilee year, with the meat spread thin. But there are still treats: Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra playing all nine Beethoven symphonies; the superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann in Berlioz’s “The Trojans” (Prom 11); Mark Elder conducting leading soloists, two great orchestras and choirs in Elgar’s “The Apostles” (37); a full John Cage centenary celebration (47); and I Fagiolini delivering Renaissance rarities with their sparkling blend of song and physical comedy (53).

Das Labyrinth (Salzburg Festival, Aug 3rd). Mozart’s actor-librettist
Emanuel Schikaneder provided the text for Peter Winter’s sequel to “Die Zauberflöte”, which was a huge hit in its day. This production will let people see what happened next to the young lovers.

Michael Church is classical-music critic at the Independent