The 24-year-old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang (above) was the focus of a Project San Francisco week at the San Francisco Symphony, which was to have included a solo recital, an evening of chamber music, and a soloist turn with the symphony playing Bartok's Second Piano Concerto.
However, Wang had injured herself and cancelled the solo recital on doctor's orders. In an interesting interview with Cedric at SFist last year (click here), she confessed after a similar cancellation of a San Francisco Performances recital, "Hopefully, it's just because I played so much, and I have small hands. So constant stretching and forcing it, it's not too good. The important thing was to have time to relax and not do anything for the muscles to go back."
She should attempt to take it easy because her musicianship and artistry are in a very special league of their own, and she has a long career ahead of her if she wants it. I didn't attend the chamber concert earlier in the week but did read about Wang's revealing dress and platform shoes which managed to titillate and shock any number of writers. She wore the same ensemble again at Friday night's full orchestra concert when she played the Bartok Second, and she was extraordinary, although the performance itself didn't cohere all that well with the orchestra.
Wang played from a score, which is fairly unusual for a symphonic soloist. In a wonderful blog post at the Telegraph about playing with a score vs. playing from memory, the great British pianist Stephen Hough gives both sides of the story (click here):
"If you get a performer talking in a rare moment of complete honesty one of the principal reasons you will hear over and over again for stage fright is the fear of forgetting. The terror of suddenly not knowing where you are, an obvious wrong entry, that blackout, the orchestra and you in a train wreck of harmonic collision and confusion. It is one of the reasons some pianists start to conduct; it is one of the reasons others choose to focus on chamber music or accompaniment, when the use of a score is acceptable; it is one of the reasons still others go into early retirement and start to teach; it is one of the reasons some artists play the same repertoire season after season; and I often wonder whether Glenn Gould’s premature move away from the concert stage to the recording studio had something to do with a gradually failing memory."
The concert started off with Bartok's 1915 "Rumanian Folk Dances," which was originally written for solo piano and then scored for a chamber orchestra. According to the program notes, Bartok wrote,
"The right type of peasant music is most varied and perfect in its forms. Its expressive power is amazing, and at the same time devoid of all sentimentality and superfluous ornaments. It is simple, sometimes primitive, but never silly. It is the ideal starting point for a musical renaissance."I heard the New Century Chamber Orchestra play the Rumanian Dances last February, and they managed to capture all those qualities, but they seemed to elude the larger San Francisco Symphony. Both Bartok pieces sounded simply too far removed from their folkloric starting points.
Tthe ubiquitous Rik Malone (above), host at the radio station KDFC and "External Affairs Manager" at the SF Conservatory of Music, invited the audience to stay after the concert for a Q&A he would be conducting with Yuja Wang. Then Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the orchestra in Act 3 of Tchaikowsky's "Swan Lake" ballet. This might have worked well in the context of a Summer & The Symphony pops concert, particularly since the unsubtle performance sounded like they could have been playing John Philip Sousa highlights, but it was a strange choice to accompany the spiky Bartok of the first half.