Thursday, August 4, 2011

Concert Review: Yuja Wang at Hollywood Bowl

Event: Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 + Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

Soloist: Yuja Wang, piano

Conductor: Lionel Bringuier

Orchestra: L.A. Philharmonic

Venue: Hollywood Bowl

Date: 2 August 2011

Seats: Section H, Row 20 (“super seats”)

I do not play any instruments. I have not plumbed the intricate depths of music theory. I cannot tell you which recording and whose performance of such and such piece of classical music is the “best.” (Though a musically inclined friend of mine is convinced I have relative pitch.)

I do know one thing, however. Sergei Rachmaninoff composed music that, for me, constitutes the golden standard of aesthetic experiences. And so it should come as no surprise that when Rachmaninoff is being played in my vicinity, I’m there.

My boyfriend Dave accompanied me on this our first visit to the Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor venue situated in the hills of Hollywood. Its stage has hosted everyone from Frank Sinatra to Elton John (ala 5 grand pianos spelling E-L-T-O-N) to Dolly Parton. In the summertime, the LA Philharmonic Orchestra migrates to the Bowl from the usual venue, Walt Disney Music Hall. All of that is to say: I was beyond excited see one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, the “Rach 3” performed in such an unusual setting.

When 24-yr-old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang walked onto the stage in a tiny, firecracker red dress and 4-inch gold stiletto heels, gasps of delight (and of horror from the snooty types) emerged from the audience. Yeah, she’s hot, and she knows it. But how the heck was she going to pull off playing one of the most technically demanding piano pieces ever composed whilst wearing precious little clothing? Well, she did it... and she did it well. Of course I ‘bout died (in the good way) the instant she began tickling the keys, as the opening measures of the first movement are what drew me to Rachmaninoff so many years ago.

Wang demonstrated a strong yet elegant command of the keyboard—she managed to make even those thunderous, dramatic chords near the end of the first movement seem like child’s play. Of course, some folks in the audience clapped between movements (a pet peeve of mine), but otherwise it was an A+ experience from beginning to end. The famously epic finale was indeed quite epic—especially when Wang immediately leapt from her seat upon firing the final note. The audience showed their appreciation with a lengthy standing ovation. My favorite part? The fact that Ms. Wang did not take herself too seriously. She approached the Rach 3 with appropriate respect and sensitivity, allowing the piece to speak for itself. I think Ms. Wang knew that, in the end, even her itty bitty red dress and glitzy shoes could not overpower the profound beauty of this beloved piece of music.

Following the intermission, the L.A. Phil performed a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 5thSymphony. Unfortunately, a very distracting “ticking” noise was emanating through the speakers during the performance, perhaps a feedback issue? But at that point, I didn’t really care, for I finally got to see the Rach 3 performed live.

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

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