Yuja Wang. Photo: Norbert Kniat/DG

Gold, glitter and piano keys

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January 19, 2024

She has shared a piano teacher with Lang Lang, is an expert in Russian repertoire and has gone viral on the internet for her incredible technique and glittering stage outfits. One of the biggest superstars in classical music, Yuja Wang, is coming to Bergen during the 2024 Bergen International Festival. 

Yuja Wang's brilliant career has taken shape through concert series, seasonal residencies, and extensive tours with some of the world's leading ensembles and conductors. Now, she is Grammy-nominated for her piano solos on The American Project, a recording of a new work written for her by Teddy Abrams. No superlatives are withheld when the pianist is reviewed, and the Chinese musician constantly reaches new heights with her outstanding playing style.

Wang was born in Beijing in 1987. Her mother was a ballet dancer, and her father was a percussionist. Piano lessons began when she was six, and at fourteen, she travelled to Canada to learn English. 

The following year, she joined the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she became the protégé of renowned pianist and teacher Gary Graffman, who previously took Lang Lang under his wing.

After five years, she graduated. The young pianist quickly conquered international stages equipped with her distinctive virtuosity, father's rhythm and mother's stage presence and posture. 

Her breakthrough came in 2007, when the then 20-year-old Wang replaced an ill Martha Argerich in Boston, Massachusetts. Argerich is described as one of history's best pianists, and stepping in for her is no easy task. But the until then unknown Wang turned up in a bright pink dress and played Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto with great conviction.

Yuja Wang. Photo: Julia Wesely

On the internet, the artist's dexterous performances have also reached far. A video from 2008, the year after she stepped in for Argerich, has more than 9 million views and shows a 21-year-old Yuja playing Flight of the Bumblebee at a blistering pace.

In addition, the artist is known for her colourful and fashion-conscious clothing. In a video with 15 million views from the Rachmaninov marathon that she performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 2023, one sees her recognisable quick bow and a new outfit for each piano concerto. 

Where critics regularly discuss her atypical clothing choices, Wang's clothes and quick-playing style seem to strike a chord with a younger audience. She goes viral online and is helping to revitalise classical music for youth and young adults. 

'If the music is beautiful and sensual, why not dress accordingly?', she says about her clothing style to The Guardian

Another Wang quality, which is unusual in the classical environment, is that she almost always plays an encore and that she does not release the programme until just before the day of the concert. You will often know which composers she will play but not which movements and pieces. So, what she will play in Grieghallen on 27 May will simply be a surprise.

Between sequins, showmanship and high heels, it is undoubtedly Yuja Wang's technique that triumphs.

In 2022, she played in Oslo with the Oslo Philharmonic, and on that occasion NRK's critic wrote:

'There is a five-year-old YouTube clip where Wang plays Prokofiev's Toccata, op. 11. I am guessing I have seen that clip 50 times. One thing is that her technique is at a superhuman level. In addition, she plays as if the Devil himself has taken up residence in her body. It is so powerful and demonic it is downright scary.'

When superstar Yuja Wang comes to Grieghallen in Bergen on 27 May 2024, you can experience her technique, engagement, and stage presence live. 

Yuja Wang. Photo: Julia Wesely

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