Updated Sept. 29
Pianist Yuja Wang, who at 20, in 2007, dazzled a University of Richmond audience with her performances of Maurice Ravel’s “La valse” and Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor, went on to become a globally celebrated virtuoso, excelling especially in the concertos of Sergei Rachmaninoff. (Also noteworthy/notorious for her fashion choices and lifestyle, which have made her a face in celeb “news.”)
Now a seasoned 35-year-old, Wang is playing all four Rachmaninoff concertos and his “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in pairs of programs between Jan. 26 and Feb. 5 at Philly’s Verizon Hall, and in a single marathon performance, expected to run 3½ hours, on Jan. 28 at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
A star-studded celebration of the composer’s 150th anniversary year: Philly has been “Rachmaninoff’s orchestra” since he recorded the concertos and rhapsody with them in the late-1920s and early ’30s, and Wang currently is one of the best-known pianists playing them. (One of the best? It’s a crowded and accomplished field.)
Star power aside, this will be a hard-core undertaking for performers and audiences alike.
Rachmaninoff’s two best-known concertos, the Second and Third, are sufficiently long, eventful and note-heavy to satisfy any healthy appetite for the composer and/or piano-playing. The rhapsody, while shorter, is also a plateful. Add the lesser-known First and Fourth concertos, each running half an hour or so. Presumably, there will be an intermission or two (or three?). Even with breaks, though, I would anticipate a musical event not unlike one of those all-you-can-eat competitions popular in the future diabetic and stroke-victim communities.
From the performer’s perspective, Wang, speaking to The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández, opts for a combat metaphor: “Let’s see where this kamikaze run is going to go. I can’t even control it, so I’m just going to go with the flow.”
UPDATE: Wang “brought both clarity and poetry. She played with heft but not bombast, sentiment but not schmaltz. Her touch can certainly be firm, but not a single note was harsh or overly heavy; her prevailing style is sprightly, which is why the concert didn’t feel like eating five slices of chocolate cake in a row,” The Times’ Zachary Wolfe writes in his review of the concert: