The 'Classy And Fabulous' Yuja Wang Sizzles With Prokofiev And The BSO

For decades violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter has drawn widespread coverage for her strapless, form-fitting gowns as well as her superb fiddling. Yuja Wang is attracting similar attention mixing miniskirts and Rachmaninoff.

Not everyone is thrilled with this kind of attention. Classical purists think all that’s important is the notes. Women often raise the question of double standards, as critics never write about what Kristian Zimerman wears.

In fact, plenty of attention does go to those notes. They are played with startling talent and taste, and her interpretive skills, at 27, are getting sharper all the time, as you can see Thursday through Saturday as she performs Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall.

Don’t take my word for it, though. It’s also one of two pieces on her latest Deutsche Grammophon CD, along with Rachmaninov’s No. 3, the piece that sent David Helfgott off the deep end in “Shine.” (She plays it a lot better than he did.)

Her accompanist on the CD is Gustavo Dudamel, who was also in Boston this week, but Andrew Davis will be leading the BSO in a program that also includes Vaughn Williams’ Symphony No. 6 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Cappricio Espagnol.”

Wang seems to be specializing, at least for now, at the meeting between romanticism and modernism, with Rachmaninov leaning toward the former and Prokofiev the latter, which makes for an interesting pairing on the CD. She has hinted that she’s not ready to take on the classical masters, which seems wise whether it’s true or not. At any rate, it’s a pleasure listening to her DG pairings — Stravinsky and Scarlatti, Ligeti and Liszt, as well as Rach and Proke.

There’s hardly a double standard at work as far as her appearance goes. As former Globe classical music critic Richard Dyer used to say when people complained about his not writing about men’s clothes, who wants to read about variations in tuxedos?

Since creating a furor with a little orange dress in Los Angeles, Wang has had fun — a word not always associated with classical music — shocking people with conservative outfits as well as provocative, telling the New York Times she “looked like a nun” for part of a Carnegie Hall recital. Designing clothes is something she might have gone into had the piano not worked out.

Here she is not looking like a nun:

Not writing about Wang’s clothes is — well, talk about the elephant in the room when Wang, herself, has quoted Coco Chanel as saying, “A girl should always be two things: classy and fabulous.”

That could, just as well, describe Wang’s talent at the keyboard. Listening to her CDs, one hardly needs visual accompaniment. No matter what she’s playing, Yuja Wang is very easy on the ears.

Headshot of Ed Siegel

Ed Siegel Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is critic-at-large for WBUR.



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