Young pianist to help make Tchaikovsky concerto the centerpiece of MSO concert

October 11, 2007|By KATE COLEMAN

Pianist Yuja Wang won the concerto competition at the 2002 Aspen (Colo.) Music Festival.

She remembers playing Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 following her victory.

Elizabeth Schulze also remembers. She conducted the concert.

"I got to know how talented she was," Schulze said. "Now she's a grown artist. We're very lucky to have her."

Wang, 20, will perform Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

"It's definitely one of my favorite ones to play," said Wang, in a recent interview on her cell phone from a grocery store in Philadelphia.


The concerto is one of about 20 in Wang's repertoire. Described as "unplayable" after its 1874 debut, the composition is "hard, but it's worth it," Wang said. "It's my mom's favorite piece, so I heard it when I was young," she said. "It's a piece I have really good memory (of)."

Wang started studying piano in China when she was 6. Her mother, a ballet dancer who also plays piano, taught her only child - "by Chinese law" - to read music at a younger age, Wang said. She eventually enrolled at the Central Conservatory of Music in her native Beijing and had her first public performances in China, Australia and Germany. She won prizes in competitions in China, Germany, Spain and Japan.

The pianist came to North America at age 14. "I was in Canada for a year," she said. "I had a guardian there."

Wang is called "Ottawa's darling" in the National Arts Centre Orchestra Web site's listing of her upcoming Oct. 17 and 18 performance of Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto.

She debuted with that orchestra in February 2005, performing Beethoven's fourth concerto and replacing Radu Lupu at the "last moment." She was immediately re-engaged that June and has been invited back every season since.

Last March, she made her Boston Symphony Orchestra debut, replacing ailing pianist Martha Argerich. She performed Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, the concerto she will play this weekend at The Maryland Theatre.

The Tchaikovsky concerto is the centerpiece of the MasterWorks I program.

"I wanted to surround it with music that would be kind of a showcase for the orchestra," Schulze said.

Bedrich Smetana's Overture to "The Bartered Bride" opens the program, demanding flying fingers in the strings. Schulze called it a "showoff piece," perfect for getting the audience worked up for the Tchaikovsky piece.

The second half of the concert will feature Symphony No. 7 in D minor by Antonn Dvork, one of Schulze's favorite composers. "It's possibly his greatest symphony," she said. "It's been a joy to work on, and (I) know that the orchestra is in such good shape in terms of its quality that we're going to be able to do this major repertoire. I'm really looking forward to a great season."

Wang is looking forward to her Hagerstown performance. "It will be so nice to play there, too," she said.

Her schedule is demanding. She is in her last year of study at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. This year's classes include Shakespearean tragedy.

She said she practices two or three hours a day - "if I have a piano." Wang travels a lot. She returns to China to perform "once in a year" and usually vacations there, also. She heads to Canada and Mexico after her Hagerstown performance, then Russia. Her Jan. 26 recital at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., is sold out.

But Wang has a lot of spare time when she travels and likes to read and usually rents old movies. She likes "The Lord of the Rings" movies. She likes Backstreet Boys for background music and enjoys Icelandic singer Bjrk and jazz.

"I just feel like I am like 25 persons in one because I do all the things because my parents are in China," she said in charmingly accented English punctuated with frequent laughter.

"I always have this nightmare," Wang said. "When I wake up, I don't even know where I am."

When she wakes up Saturday and Sunday, Yuja Wang will be in Hagerstown.

Schulze predicts that Wang will be one of the true substantial artists of her generation.

"It's very exciting to be able to have her play with us," Schulze said.

"She's the real thing."

For more information about the pianist, go to For information and to listen to selections from the weekend program, go to the MSO Web site at

If you go ...

WHAT: MasterWorks I

WHEN: 18 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

COST: Tickets cost $21 to $79 for adults, and $11 to $40 for children 12 and younger and for full-time students. They are available by calling 301-797-4000 or going to the MSO box office, 30 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown. Box office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Tickets will be available at The Maryland Theatre from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

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