The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Sexy phenom pianist Yuja Wang sees Rachmaninoff rooted in improvisation and compares him to jazz giant Art Tatum. Hear her talk – and play — on NPR. Also, Marvin Rabin, founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, has died at 97. | December 7, 2013

NEWS ALERT: Marvin Rabin (below, at an award dinner in 2011),  the man who founded and directed the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra back in the 1960s, after a similar history in Louisville and Boston, died at 97 (NOT 95, as I erroneously first stated) on Thursday night. He was a giant in the field of music education, and had a national and international reputation. Look for a longer blog posting tomorrow, on Sunday. He was an amazingly talented, devoted and humane person who affected tens of thousands of lives for the better.

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/wyso-founder-dr-marvin-rabin-passes-away/

Rabin portrait USE

By Jacob Stockinger

Was that refreshing or what?

Maybe it even shows that there is more of an NPR audience for classical music than for some of the hip-hop and Latin stuff they cover to attract younger audiences. One can always hope.

Twenty-six years old and already a superstar, piano phenom Yuja Wang proved playful and articulate as she promoted her new recording (below) for Deutsche Grammophon. It features Sergei Rachmaninoff’s famous Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor and Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, both with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela under its superstar former conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who now is the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. (The Madame Butterfly eye lashes on the CD’s cover are a bit much, no? It’s guilding the lotus, The Ear would say. Wang is attractive and sexy enough just as she is.)

Yuja Wang Rach 3 CD coverGD

Yuja Wang and Gustavo Dudamel make a great team, as you can hear in the excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom. And watch how, since she is wearing s strapless dress, you can see how her shoulder and chest muscles get that big sound from a small woman.)

Relaxed and freewheeling, Wang herself proved a great improviser in an interview with NPR’s “Morning Edition” co-host Steve Inskeep as she deconstructed and eve performed parts of the “Rach 3” (below, in the NPR studio in a photo by Diane DeBelius).

yuja wang at npr Denise DeBelius NPR

Wang also emphasized the improvisational qualities of the music and compared Rachmaninoff (below top), one favorite of Vladimir Horowitz (below middle), to the blind jazz giant Art Tatum (below bottom), another favorite of Horowitz. I myself think it is very controlled improvisation, much like the music of Frederic Chopin.

Rachmaninoff

Vladimir Horowitz

art tatum

You may recall that the work in question is the titanic, knuckle-busting and wrist-taxing Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor that ruined pianist David Helfgott’s sanity or at least triggered his nervous breakdown in the 1996 Australian film “Shine.”

Be sure to listen to Wang’s expressive voice and to read the Readers’ Comments. There are quite a few – and just about all positive.

Many of them see Yuja Wang as a new Vladimir Horowitz — an obvious comparison reinforced by both the way she plays and the repertoire she plays. (Why not see her as the new Martha Argerich — whom Horowitz himself said had learned much from him.)

But the readers also clearly encourage NRP to do more stories along these lines.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/02/243942819/yuja-wang-rooted-in-diligence-inspired-by-improvisation

And guess what?

There was no talk about her attractive looks and the sexy micro-skirts and black gown with heels and thigh-slits (below) that have sparked such controversy when she played in them at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall, respectively.

yuja wang dress times 3

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Ruby Washington NYTimes


3 Comments »

  1. Maybe you also classify male artists as sexy, but if you don’t then it’s inappropriate to do so for a woman.

    Comment by Scott in GA — June 9, 2014 @ 7:57 pm

  2. I’m so sorry to read about Marvin Rabin. He was a wonderful person, and created WYSO so many children could become talented musicians. Both of my daughters went through WYSO and are still playing. He will be missed.

    Comment by Genie Ogden — December 7, 2013 @ 1:18 am

  3. I intend to give these Yuja Wang tracks a Big Listen, along with some original Rachmaninoff playing of his own concertos, and Horowitz and Marta Argerich as well. These are ALL the heaviest of the Heavies from the 20th century. I spent two years listening to nothing but Tatum in my car while driving, just to learn how to hear his rhythms. It worked. Let’s see how these others stack up. 0
    As far as improvisation, well, why don’t classical pianists write some music? some tunes to blow on? Taking one’s technical regimen and expanding it into something musically meaningful is just what jazz players do. There is no reason classical musicians cannot do this as well.
    BUT, improvisation does NOT make a music jazz. It makes it improvised. Swing and the Blues make jazz what it is. So, let’s be clear that improvisation was done by Bach and Beethoven and Mozart, but none of these were jazz. Today’s classical pianists can hear jazz, but they are not playing it unless it has a swinging feeling,and a blues sound.
    Could still be very nice music, of course.
    More on this most interesting topic…later,
    MBB

    Comment by Michael BB — December 7, 2013 @ 12:53 am


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