[CONCERT REVIEW] Yuja Wang Opens Carnegie Hall Perspectives Residency with Bold, Sexually-Charged, Animalistic Energy

Yuja Wang, Martin Grubinger, Alexander Georgiev, Leonhard Schmidinger, and Martin Grubinger Sr.. Photo credit: Chris Lee

Yuja Wang, Martin Grubinger, Alexander Georgiev, Leonhard Schmidinger, and Martin Grubinger Sr.. Photo credit: Chris Lee

Yuja Wang is known for her insatiable flair at the piano and this came in spades during the opening of her Perspectives residency at Carnegie Hall with Martin Grubinger and his fellow percussionists who all performed with bold, sexually-charged, animalistic energy. The sold-out crowd soaked up the musical hurricane with fits of applause and standing ovations.

Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion

It makes sense that Yuja Wang opened her performance with Bela Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion with only one piano. She set the tone for the evening with the composer’s folk rhythms of his native Hungary and his mastery of classical structures.

Starting with a modification of the sonata form and ending with a rodeo-like dance, Bartok focused on idiosyncratic rhythms that were almost primitive, both basic and powerful.

It is not an easy piece to perform, and Yuja Wang made sure not only to perform it impeccably, but impart dripping emotion. The performance was pulsating, really gripping the audience into listening and anticipating what comes next.

Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps (Rite of Spring)

Wang also had Igor Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps (Rite of Spring) pared down to just piano and percussion, which didn’t take away from its essence, but only magnified it. At the time Stravinsky debuted the work, it shocked the audience. And in some way, this happened with Wang’s concert. Known for her skimpy dresses, it’s almost her own way of portraying Stravinsky’s ethos through fashion.

For his early works Stravinsky took a “primitive state of being” and Russian folk music influences, something he tended to deny. Rite of Spring experiments with tonality as he moved into a more modern approach despite his peers’ shift into atonality of Schoenberg’s Second Viennese School. The whirls and spirals drag the listener around and around, waiting to be released from the “music ride”. It then heads into a fling that is still barbaric in nature, but no less enrapturing.

Wang and her fellow percussionists embodied this zeitgeist with unbridled joy.

Percussionist-extraordinaire Martin Grubinger significantly contributed to the concert’s overwhelming flare. Other percussionists were featured including Alexander Georgiev, Leonhard Schmidinger, and Grubinger’s father, Martin Grubinger Sr.

Martin Grubinger is another young artist who is pairing modern contemporary classical with traditional classical. His broad repertoire and enthusiasm made him a great collaborator for Yuja Wang, playing to each other’s strengths. They both lassoed the audience and took them along for a musical tornado that left everyone breathless.

Yuja Wang, millennial superstar of the classical world

After graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music in 2008, Yuja Wang has enjoyed a rise to fame, with a large repertoire of solo performances, chamber music collaborations, and performances with conductors and orchestras around the globe. She is the proud recipient of a few awards, including the 2006 Gilmore Young Artist Award, the 2010 Avery Fisher Career Grant, the 2011 ECHO Klassik Young Artist of the Year, and the 2017 Musical America Artist of the Year.

Carnegie Hall Perspectives series continues with more Yuja Wang performances

This was Wang’s first performance of her Perspectives Artist residency at Carnegie Hall this season. This coming February, she teams up with longtime duo partner violinist Leonidas Kavakos, as well as a performance with virtuoso musical comedians Igudesman & Joo. In April, she joins cellist Gautier Capuçon for a recital, and concludes her residency with the New World Symphony in May conducted by the venerable Michael Tilson Thomas.