Filed Under:

Yuja Wang: Rooted In Diligence, Inspired By Improvisation

Play associated audio

Sergey Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 — "Rach 3," as fans fondly call it — is one of the most famously difficult pieces of music there is. The sheet music goes on and on, with notes so dense the pages start to look like modern art. The piece is so challenging that some noted pianists have declined to perform it — but Yuja Wang has recorded it for her newest album.

The 26-year-old, Chinese-born pianist says there's something about the Rach 3 that reminds her of legendary improvisational jazz pianist Art Tatum. Wang says she's positive that Rachmaninov, a turn-of-the-last-century Russian composer, must have started out improvising alone at the keyboard the way a jazz musician might.

"I'm always amazed by improvisations, because of how they turn around a motif and can just be all creative about how everything is connected," Wang says. "And that's how the piece is written: It's a huge work for 45 minutes, but everything is interconnected."

A pianist since age 6, Wang says she was inspired to enter the classical world after hearing another striking piece of music.

"The first thing that really got me was [Mauricio] Pollini's recording of Chopin's etudes. I just really wanted to have the same sound. You know how girls really want a doll or a toy? I really wanted to play the way I wanted to play. So I was really working toward that."

And work she did. Her first exposure to the instrument was an upright piano that her parents received as a wedding gift. As a teenager, she studied in the United States at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music and then burst onto the concert scene.

Wang currently lives alone in New York — where, she says, she embraces the opportunity to reflect in a personal space.

"Being a musician is almost like a very isolated life, and the only time you actually get to communicate is on stage with music," Wang says. "It's not a bad thing. People say, 'Oh, are you lonely?' I think being solitary, it really allows us to think about life and to think about why people write this music. Or why those people are moved by certain melodies. It makes you start to wonder about things that are beneath the surface."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Aviator Beryl Markham Soars Again In 'Paris Wife' Author's New Book

"It is my fate to illuminate the lives of these one-of-a-kind notable women that have been somehow forgotten by history," says Paula McClain. She shines her spotlight on Markham in Circling the Sun.
NPR

At The Purple Pie Place, Where The Crusts Are Just Sweet Enough

Bobkat's Purple Pie Place is a fixture in Custer, S.D. From chicken pot pie to strawberry rhubarb, Trevor Yehlie and his family have been baking and serving pies at the local favorite since 2009.
NPR

SuperPACs Report Their Funds — And The Numbers Are Staggering

SuperPACs released their latest funding numbers Friday, and already it's clear that the committees' roles in 2016 will be gargantuan.
NPR

Despite Host Controversy, Amazon Takes A Chance On 'Top Gear'

The trio that made Top Gear the world's biggest car show will return to the small screen in a new show for Amazon Prime. The BBC canned one of its hosts last year after a fight with a producer.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.