Arts concert review

Igniting the Steinway

Chinese pianist Yuja Wang’s Boston debut

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Pianist Yuja Wang performed her Boston recital debut at NEC’s Jordan Hall on Oct. 18.
Ian Douglas

Yuja Wang

Boston Recital Debut

Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston

Friday, Oct. 18, 8 p.m.

NEC’s Jordan Hall

Yuja Wang, moving vigorously to music in a bright red dress and silver stilettos, was a ball of life in stark contrast against the still black Steinway; her rapidly movwing fingers pulling powerful strings of melodies from the grand piano. Her fervent movements threw her hair dancing and accented the notes she drew from an instrument that she had clearly mastered. In her musical interpretation, it was clear her Tweet quoting Mahler, “Tradition is tending the flame, it’s not worshiping the ashes,” was deeply embedded into her modern, energetic style.

At twenty-six, Yuja Wang is a Chinese classical pianist widely recognized for her charismatic stage presence, intense performances of chamber music, and incredible technique, having already performed with many of the world’s most renowned orchestras and collaborated with celebrated conductors such as Gustavo Dudamel, Charles Dutoit, Zubin Mehta, and Manfred Honeck.

She opened the night with Prokofiev, Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, a spirited piece that immediately demonstrated her technique as her fingers danced across the keys to weave the notes together effortlessly. Next, she moved into Chopin, beginning with the Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Opus 58. From the opening, Wang dramatically played with the rubato that she seems to own as part of her improvisatory technique, letting notes melt into each other in a jumble of intensity. What was most impressive was the sheer amount of passion she displayed with each note, seemingly breathing life into the music. In the final movement, notes tumbled and staggered into each other as Wang played impressively executed runs up and down the keyboard, before letting the final chords resonate in the ornate performance chamber of Jordan Hall.

Briefly indulging in some jazz, Wang began Kapustin’s Variations for Piano, Opus 41 with animation and enjoyment, her fingers dancing across the keys in this energetic piece. The conclusion of the piece featured many “strides”, having the left hand move rapidly between bass notes and chords, culminating in a dramatic end that stretched from the twinkling high notes down to the final bass ending. The final piece on the program was Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka, a story about a puppet that comes to life. The scenes filled with gypsies, dancing bears and masqueraders did not seem far-fetched, thanks to Wang’s energy, and the animation and charisma with which she elicited notes from the Steinway.

Rising to thunderous applause after the last piece of the night and relentless standing ovations, Wang graciously returned to the piano with an encore that featured Tea for Two, by Art Tatem, and a selection from Carmen by Bizet, transcribed by Horowitz. Her personality shined through in her passionate and masterful performance, which left the entire hall buzzing with energy.