Killjoy Critic Norman Lebrecht calls for Chinese pianist Yuja Wang to put more clothes on.
uja Wang does everything possible to draw attention to her appearance. She habitually changes costume in a concert interval to show more leg and she feeds the internet with a stream of selfies in halter tops and skimpy shorts.
Tap “Yuja Wang” into your phone and you’ll get the full flaunty. Yet, under present rules of permitted speech, it is not supposed to affect our judgement of who she is and what she does. Well, let’s breach that taboo and see what happens.
First things first. I would not be wasting space on Yuja Wang if she was not an outstanding pianist, breathtaking in late-modern and post-modern music. She plays Prokofiev with a verve envied by Russians and Ligeti with a wit that eludes Hungarians.
In the post-Covid return to normal, she is a top draw at top venues. At Carnegie Hall’s reopening gala, it was Yuja Wang who got the star spot, not Lang Lang. That is how fast she has risen. Deutsche Grammophon, the premium record label, jumps to her bidding. If she wanted to play Stockhausen on a spinet, it would sell out within hours. She can do as she pleases. Why, then, does she use bare cheek to distract from the music?
The speed of her ascent may have something to do with it. Raised by party-member parents in Beijing, she went to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing at nine years old and to Canada at fourteen to learn English. The venerable Gary Graffman at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute took her on as his protégée, as he had done once before with Lang Lang, though the pair could not be more dissimilar. Where Lang Lang was a born showman, Yuja Wang just wanted to get on stage, play fast and get off. Her discovery of skintight gear, made by the Canadian designer Rosemarie Umetsu (who also tailors for Lang Lang) may have given her the confidence to hang around for flashlights and encores. …
To journalists who inquire about her outfits she says, “that’s what young people wear”. She’s not good at interviews, appearing easily bored or extremely naïve — which may be a diversionary tactic, a means to conceal whoever the real Yuja Wang might be.
“If the music is beautiful and sensual, why not dress to fit?” she teased Fiona Maddocks of the Observer. “It’s about power and persuasion. Perhaps it’s a little sadomasochistic of me. But if I’m going to get naked with my music, I may as well be comfortable while I’m at it.”