Looking at the petite and lithe 25-year-old classical pianist, Yuja Wang, is a pleasant experience. In contrast to the recent warm August night at the Hollywood Bowl, Wang was cool in her long, purple, clingy dress showing a young shapely thigh through the slit up the right leg. Her short black hair was not coiffed like a news-anchor, but like an accomplished artist whose self-expressive showcase was her musical talent not her body.
I’ve seen other artists play Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto: All with a stylistic, often too demonstratively percussive deliberation — Pavel Nersisyan in 2009, his demeanor stiff and strenuous; Sunwook Kim in 2009, leaning over the keyboard in seeming mechanistic labor; Martha Argerich in 2001, distant from and hunched over the keyboard, leaning into her music, fussing with her hair; Ayako Uehara in 2002, no sweeping elegance in style, but again arduous.
Wang in contrast did not pause to straighten her hair, had no need to adjust her dress – there were no grooming fetishes to deter. Upright was her carriage. Her arms seemed to have the range of the keyboard with minimal movement of body. Hands and fingers swept over the keys like rhythmic, sometime irregular, waves. Some feel they must distinguish their performance of the oft-played Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto as bold and intense. Slight of body, Wang’s approach is of natural finesse, fingers glide, hands, fluid waves of motion. Her carriage and her body become one with the music, not trying to overpower or manage.
Many of us are emotionally overcome with the beauty and drama of this piece, the concerto’s opening famously overexposed in many venues. For this reason, perhaps some artists tend to embellish or stage the ambiance, like a cliché. Overall, Wang’s sound and motion characterizes her own physical attributes – slight build, slender fingers and wrists — with a lithe and a subtle percussive glitter.
Her Tchaikovsky was not unmitigated perfection in that she took the third movement at an extraordinarily fast tempo, showing her rapid-fire mastery of the keys, but with less finesse than the exquisite musicality of the first two movements.