Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Yuja Adulation

I have rarely seen as much critical acclaim for a performing artist visiting San Francisco as I have seen for pianist Yuja Wang. Because her April 22 San Francisco Performances recital was cancelled and rescheduled due to an arm injury, over this past weekend her followers had the opportunity to attend not only the rescheduled recital but also her guest appearance in the penultimate subscription concert of the current San Francisco Symphony season. By way of disclaimer, I should state that my own coverage of her at these events was as positive as any reports I subsequently read. However, I also make it a point to get my own pieces into the Examiner.com system "with all deliberate speed;" so I can put a stake in the ground to claim that my ideas are strictly my own.

The secondary theme to all this adulation seems to come with the question, "Is there anything she cannot play?" For my part the primary open question concerns chamber music. I know that she has performed in the summer at Santa Fe, and I have heard bits and pieces of some of her performances as they were later broadcast here on KALW. However, that was hardly enough for me to form an opinion. From my own (San Francisco based) point of view, the first serious test of her chamber music skills will take place in almost exactly a year's time, on June 14, 2011, when she will perform in a chamber music recital by San Francisco Symphony musicians as part of her Project San Francisco residency. The event page for this recital is already on the Symphony Web site, but the program has yet to be announced.

This allows me the luxury of fantasizing about what I would like to hear her perform at this recital. There are any number of "usual suspects" I could round up that would be consistent with what I have already heard her perform. Béla Bartók's Contrasts would probably rank high on that list; but, since she will be performing his second piano concerto at that week's subscription concert, I would hope for more variety. Then there is Sergei Rachmaninoff's Opus 19 cello sonata in G minor. Rachmaninoff thought that cello and piano should be equals in this composition; and, while I have come to know and love this music, I also accept that, since it came from Rachmaninoff's pen, the piano is probably "more equal" than the cello. In a more traditional vein I have heard Wang play Johannes Brahms only on her latest recording; and either the piano quintet or any of the piano quartets (the G minor being my favorite) would be an excellent choice. However, what I would most enjoy would be a composition that does not get very much exposure and definitely deserves more. So the top of my list would most likely be the Opus 84 A minor piano quintet by Edward Elgar. I first hear this performed over twenty years ago in Santa Maria (of all places) and was so drawn into it that I leapt at the first opportunity to purchase a CD of it. I have not heard it in performance since then, even with all the diverse opportunities available through the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; and, as I said, this music just does not deserve that kind of neglect. So, while Elgar was never known for his piano writing, my greatest delight would be if Yuja's residency included a performance of this quintet!

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