The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Sexy superstar pianist Yuja Wang is this issue’s cover girl for BBC Music Magazine. But is the headline proclaiming “world domination” sexist or racist? | March 10, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

For sometime now, the young Chinese-born piano virtuoso Yuja Wang (below) has been gathering more and more press as well as more and more critical accolades.

For a second time, her Grammy nomination – this last one for two Rachmaninov concertos with conductor Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra for the Deutsche Grammophon label – failed to win. But it was a great recording.

No matter. Wang just she keeps on building her public profile and her professional success.

First, it was her astonishing abilities as a child prodigy. You can see many of those performances posted on YouTube, where you can also find her octave miracles in the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” performance she posted as an adult. (Also her video “The House of Flying Fingers,” made when Wang was younger.)

Then it was her last-minute substitutions for established artists and her ability to play white-hot music with steely cool nerves.

More recently, the young and attractive, leggy and sexy Wang was featured in headlines for wearing a sexy orange micro-skirt (below) during an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl where played Rachmaninov’s finger-breaking Third Concerto with ease, fluidity and strength.

Then she made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall in a more subdued black gown that featured a thigh-high slit (below, in a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times). But none other than New York Times senior critic Anthony Tommasini praised her musicality and virtuosity.

Her fees and the number of her bookings are both no doubt skyrocketing.

Yuja Wang is going, as they say, viral.

We will see what happens when her next recording, “Fantasia” (below) is released on April 10. It is sure to be a bestseller, I would bet.

In the meantime, the prestigious and culturally serious publication, the BBC Music Magazine has made Wang its cover story. That much is perfectly understandable, and to Wang and the magazine’s credit.

What is less understandable or justifiable to me is the headline, which asks is she is on the verge of achieving “world domination.”

Does that heavy-handed term strike anyone as not only excessive or sensationalistic but perhaps even sexist and racist, with its Cold War overtones of conflict and the “Yellow Peril.” Certainly, all things Chinese have lately been seen as the major challenge or threat confronting the Western world and Western civilization these days. Are they talking about piano playing and music and art? Or about global geo-political rivalries?

Anyway, here is a link to the story in PDF format (so it takes a few seconds to load). It has a lot of fascinating information, including Wang’s injuries and her recovery from them. She comes off as very likable as well as immensely talented.

http://rebeccadavispr.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Yuja_BBC-copy.pdf

Enjoy it.

Then let The Ear know what you think about the story, about Yuja Wang and her playing, and about the striking headline.

The Ear wants to hear.


11 Comments »

  1. “Yuja Wang is going, as they say, viral.” I like this one – pretty much spot-on. Good call Mr. Stockinger!!!

    But…

    “What is less understandable or justifiable to me is the headline, which asks is she is on the verge of achieving ‘world domination’.
    Does that heavy-handed term strike anyone as not only excessive or sensationalistic but perhaps even sexist and racist, with its Cold War overtones of conflict and the “Yellow Peril.” Certainly, all things Chinese have lately been seen as the major challenge or threat confronting the Western world and Western civilization these days. Are they talking about piano playing and music and art? Or about global geo-political rivalries?”

    “Less understandable?” One has only to attend one of her performances (live or on youtube) to experience her mastery of performance, interpretation, sexual projection, her musicality – it is no less than superb! “Less understandable?” Hardly. In all fairness to other great pianists, she simply is what she is. There is really no way to compare. Just enjoy…

    As for taking a commonly used phrase to denote popularity with an artist and attempt to equate that with “cold war overtones”, something innately evil and “Chinese”, or “about “global-political rivalries”, that is not only “less understandable or justifiable” but borders on the ridiculous. There is absolutely no intent from the author of the title to the article in BBC’s “MUSIC” to insinuate any of the aforementioned and any attempts to say so only open up some insecurity of a music critic who must be a spurned political commentator without presence to desire to inject a political comment where it has no place. Bizarre really.

    As for the title and suggesting that somehow the phrase is “sexist or racist”, that is so from Mars that I will not comment other than to say that it totally shows some mental deficit in an otherwise good writer to bring up an offense for absolutely no reason at all. My suggestion: If you can’t focus on her sexiness, her beauty, even her ethnic beauty and greatness for what it is, then simply watch someone else; write of someone else.

    Comment by Steve Tanton — February 25, 2017 @ 1:17 pm

  2. The “world domination” thing is a very common way that music journalists talk about musicians who are very popular (or about to be). Doesn’t strike me as specific to Yuja Wang. Just a common way of saying, “Hey, she’s really popular and stuff!” Here’s NPR saying it about Philip Glass 6 weeks ago, for instance:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/01/27/145991689/joy-in-repetition-philip-glass-turns-75

    Comment by Scott — March 11, 2012 @ 10:10 am

    • Hi Scott,
      Thanks for the perspective and the other example.
      But it still bothers me and, I suspect, others.
      It really does seem a stretch.
      I say music journalists should find some new jargon or shorthand that is more accurate and less hyperbolic.
      As always, thanks for reading ask writing.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 11, 2012 @ 11:31 am

  3. Having met Mr. Kissin on multiple occasions, including one longer than just “It was nice to hear you play…”, MY opinion is that he was a really nice young man now grown into an equally nice adult.

    And his playing is growing more and more mature, as well, while losing none of its youthful innovation and amazing revelations of insight.

    We’ll see what happens with Ms. Wang over the next 20 years.

    Comment by Michael Scott — March 10, 2012 @ 10:57 am

    • Hi Michael,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      I am not a big fan of Evgeny Kissin, but I think you are right. He playing has matured and is now more to my taste.
      Yuja Wang is more overtly virtuosic and goes for the sizzle. But whether she will have staying power is indeed a good an appropriate question.
      I suspect she can indeed — but she will have to focus more on programs and on the artistic side of the piano repertoire, not just the wow’em type repertoire.
      As you say, time will tell.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 10, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

  4. Reading the article now–WHY on earth does BBC Music Magazine have everybody saying “Mum” when referring to “Mom” in these interviews? Hilary Hahn’s interview with them has the same thing, and I know she doesn’t say that!

    Comment by Chris McGovern — March 10, 2012 @ 9:04 am

    • Note to BBC: Not everybody is British!!

      Comment by Chris McGovern — March 10, 2012 @ 9:24 am

      • Hi Chris,
        You are right to offer this addendum.
        The same criticism has been leveled at the awards that British organizations also hand out — favoring British, artists and British records labels, not exclusively but inordinately.
        Point well taken.
        Jake

        Comment by welltemperedear — March 10, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

    • Hi Chris,
      Well, Brits wil be Brits!
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 10, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

  5. Headlines, like dresses, are a selling point, not a point of content. Remember Pogerelich’s leather pants and Fabio-like blousy shirts?
    As a serious writer, when I am writing seriously, at any rate, I always try and make a headline conform as closely as possible to the content of what is being headlined. She is not dominating the classical piano world, or the geopolitical stage, not yet, anyway. The article protrays her as a fresh new face who does not want to be told what to do by lesser mortals. Sounds good to me.
    So she studies with Graffman, and then gets hurt, mmm… just a coincidence? I think not. Graffman has not yet learned how to teach his students to avoid the same ailments that ended his playing days. Sheese!
    Her story reminds me of Josef Hoffman, the kid who soared to the heights of the repertoire, then burned out before he was 30, and sat behind a desk, drinking and inventing windshield wipers. As Pytr Andrezewski said, in the documentary “Art of Piano”, “everything came too easy( for Hoffman), there was noting to struggle against, and this was his undoing.”
    Everyone who attains a career as a concert pianist is a virtuoso. It is part of the job description. It is their musicianship that has to distinguish itself from the others. Their ability to attract and hold an audiences’ attention makes for long and important careers, as Schyler Chapin says, in the same Art of Piano.
    As for Mr. Kissin, I am sad that he did not live up to her idea of him in person. In a cryptic statement, she says, ” Oh, I didn’t know you were that way!” Would that be professionally competitive, egotistical, socially aggressive, or disinterested in women. I could see any one of the four as possibilities. As Colin Davis said, in , yep, you guessed it, Art of Piano. “sitting in a room, with a great machine every day, and having to prove that you are the master of it, and not the other way ’round, can complicate the psyche”. Or, if your psyche is aready complicated, it can provide an excellent and hospitable refuge. I certainly use it as such. MBB

    Comment by Michael BB — March 10, 2012 @ 6:00 am

  6. In this serious and interesting article there is no explanation for the strange headline. “Domination” seems me a very stupid notion in connection with the so sympathetic and stunning natural Yuja Wang. You better overlook the headline and concentrate on the pretty picture.

    Comment by Christoph Müller — March 10, 2012 @ 5:01 am


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