“Freedom To Be The Devil” — Pianist Yuja Wang Returns To Symphony Hall

Published on November 20, 2019

Years ago, there was an ad for speakers whose sound was so powerful that the person listening to the music was literally getting blown out of the room.

That may be the experience of East Coast music lovers when the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with piano soloist Yuja Wang, performs a new concerto by American composer John Adams. 

The concerts take place in Boston, at Symphony Hall on November 23rd, under the auspices of the Celebrity Series, and then in New York’s Lincoln Center on November 25th.

The New Piece

The piece is called “Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?,” commissioned by the LA Phil and premiered by that orchestra last March, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting.

The piece was written for Wang, the world’s most powerful, renowned, and breath-taking pianist.  Since the premiere, Wang, Dudamel, and the LA Phil have toured with the piece at the Hollywood Bowl and in Edinburgh, Mexico City, and London.

“It’s unusual to be able to grow with a piece in this manner,” Wang says, “especially with the same group of musicians.  Each time we come back to the piece, we magically and organically gain a little more confidence, a little edge.

“We have more freedom to be the devil,” she laughs.  “You know the name of the piece, right?”

Wang says that she loves working with composer Adams and she loves playing the concerto.

“The piece has this inevitable obsessive drive,” she says, “with wacky colors and instrumentation.  There’s a hypnotic metamorphosis in the second movement, not to mention the polyrhythms, which were hard to put together. But once the piece started to speak to us, we could just swing with it. It’s a good sign with any great music – it gets better the more we experience it.”

Wang isn’t alone in her enjoyment of Adams’ new concerto, his third.  The piece has received high praise from music reviewers across the world, which is pretty remarkable, because music reviewers tend not to like much of anything new.

Rave Reviews

Bachtrack.com, a British online music journal, called the piece a “sprawling new tour de force.”

The Washington Post said, “The piano line treaded a cool, quiet path through a landscape of heavy-breathing bases and woodwinds murmuring the kinds of sinister melodies Bernard Herrmann might have used to underscore Hitchcock Heroine wandering into mortal peril.”

The San Francisco Classical Voice took up that same noir sensibility, saying that the piece “combines familiar structural motives and instrumental effects with the edgy feel of a hard-boiled Raymond Chandler novel.”

Wang has dazzled audiences for almost a decade with her playing, which is commonly referred to as thrilling, dazzling, high-powered, sensitive, demonic, and always brilliant.

Who is Yuja Wang?

Wang is a Chinese-born, Canadian-educated pianist who first made a name for herself while still an undergraduate at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia when she became the go-to fill-in performer for piano soloists who had taken ill.  No doubt they heard about how well she played in their absence and made it a point to get well sooner than they might have planned.

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas literally bowed down to her on the Carnegie Hall stage when the then 19-year old performed at a level surpassing pretty much anyone who had ever touched a keyboard.

In Orange County, Wang, barely 20, filled in for Murray Perahia during the last season of Sir Neville Marriner’s tenure as conductor of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

The audience that night was treated to a once in a lifetime spectacle of the 80-something conductor watching with unfeigned admiration and downright awe as the 20-something Wang offered encore after encore for an audience grown dizzy by the fireworks of her playing.

Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes, and for good measure, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, fill out the bill in both Boston and New York.

The high-octane combination of Dudamel, Adams, and Wang may well prompt management in both venues to install lap belts for the safety of concert goers.

If you get blown out of your seat by Yuja Wang — as you almost certainly will — don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Michael Levin is a News Columnist at Grit Daily.

Read more

More GD News