Brilliant and charismatic pianist Yuja Wang is among the most prominent pianists in the world, becoming a star by age 21 and building a consistently growing career since then. Russian virtuoso music is at the center of Wang’s repertory, but she has expanded into new musical realms.
Yuja Wang (Wang Yuja in the Chinese naming system; Wang is her family name) was born in Beijing on February 10, 1987. An only child like most Chinese of her time, she grew up with a dancer mother and percussionist father. She took up the piano at six, was identified as a major talent, and took classes at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Wang’s first breakthrough outside China was a win at the Sendai International Music Competition in Japan in 2001. She moved that year to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to enter the Mount Royal College Conservatory and then, after winning the Aspen Music Festival Concerto Competition, headed for Philadelphia in 2002 to study at the Curtis Institute with Gary Graffman. In 2003, Wang made her European debut with the Tonhalle Orchestra in Switzerland, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58. Some pianists are propelled into the A list by a single evening substituting for a famous pianist; in Wang’s case, it happened three times: for Radu Lupu (2005), Martha Argerich (2007, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23), and Murray Perahia (2008, on an entire American tour). In 2008, she graduated from the Curtis Institute and made several high-profile appearances, including one at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. The following year, she made her debut with an album of works by Chopin, Scriabin, Liszt, and Ligeti; the album appeared on Deutsche Grammophon, and she has remained almost exclusively associated with that label.
Since then, Wang has made concerto appearances with many of the world’s major orchestras. She toured Asia in 2012 with the San Francisco Symphony and played a recital at Suntory Hall in Tokyo the following year. Wang has continued to live in the U.S. (in New York), saying that the country fits her independent spirit. She has toured the globe repeatedly as a soloist and recitalist; Fall 2019 brought a five-night stand with the Dresden Staatskapelle in Germany. Wang is known for fashionable on-stage outfits. She stated to Fiona Maddocks of the London Guardian that the look was intentional: “If the music is beautiful and sensual, why not dress to fit? It’s about power and persuasion.” By the late 2010s, Wang was popular enough that a concert she gave could appear on recordings simply as The Berlin Recital in 2018. The following year, she issued the recital The Blue Hour. Wang is also an enthusiastic chamber player who has often appeared with cellist Gautier Capuçon; in 2022, the pair issued an album of music by Rachmaninov and Brahms on Deutsche Grammophon. ~ James Manheim