Monday, June 21, 2010

Yuja Wang Plays Vintage Modern at the Symphony


Last week's penultimate concert of the San Francisco Symphony season was an overstuffed smorgasbord of High Modern Music from Paris in the early 20th century, starting with an early piano piece for four hands by Francois Poulenc from 1918. It was performed by Music Director Michael Tilson-Thomas in partnership with the evening's superstar soloist, Yuja Wang. He started off in the treble lead in the first movement, then they switched benches, and she took over and hijacked the entire concert.

Next up was Stravinsky's 1929 Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, which I expected to recognize as it was used in the Balanchine "Jewels" ballet which was performed last year by the San Francisco Ballet, but it sounded completely new, possibly because the performance was so radically different in the symphony hall. The 23-year-old Yuja Wang is an authentic phenomenon, a tiny, gorgeous young woman who plays with astonishing percussive power and whose innate musicality seems to be literally at her fingertips. She also sounds quite bright, as you can see in an interesting interview with Cedric at SFist.

After an unnecessary palate cleanser of a string orchestra playing Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras #9 (why not more Poulenc or Satie?), Yuja Wang returned for the formidable Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, written for the rich, one-armed Paul Wittgenstein in 1930. Wittgenstein didn't like a lot of the music his mostly famous composers wrote for him, and often put it into a drawer, usually after fights with the creators. It would be interesting to hear all the music he commissioned, which is still being found in back drawers by old relatives, such as Hindemith's concerto which was just discovered in 2002.

Janos Gereben paternally worries that Yuja Wang is burning herself out with too many engagements in an otherwise gushing review of her recital at Herbst Theatre on Sunday, where he basically calls her the love child of Argerich and Horowitz.

The second half of the concert was Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," which sounded like Mannered MTT. All the individual moments were great, it just didn't make much sense together. Plus, as pianist Sarah Cahill pointed out, all the good tunes are in the first half, "just like 'The Sound of Music,' where they're singing 'My Favorite Things' in act one, but the second act is just running away from Nazis over the mountains."

1 comment:

Ced said...

thanks for the shout-out. Josh Kosman had an interview you can link to as well.

Her Ravel was revelatory; and I'm sure you got even a better performance as, as Janos pointed out, she had been short of preparation for this series.