The New Yorker:

The star pianist uses her glamour to lead audiences out of their comfort zones.

By Alex Ross

It has never been just about the music. The notion that performers should be faceless butlers of genius, impersonally conveying sublime messages in sound, has no basis in tradition. The bonkers antics of virtuoso pianists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries prove otherwise. Franz Liszt, whose stage costumes ranged from Magyar military garb to priestly robes, would sometimes stop between pieces to chat with admirers. The infamously acerbic Hans von Bülow, while on an American tour, became so irritated at the promotional efforts of the Chickering piano company that he took out a jackknife and scraped the brand’s name off the instrument. Vladimir de Pachmann once appeared at a recital holding a pair of socks; these, he claimed, had been knitted for Chopin by George Sand. And so on: the history of the piano is a history of weirdness.

Given this gaudy lineage, it is curious that any controversy should attend the thirty-seven-year-old pianist Yuja Wang, who seldom speaks during performances, presents programs of wide-ranging seriousness, and plays with flawless technique. The debate, such as it is, is confined to her taste in clothes. She favors spangly, skintight ensembles from high-end designers, such as Hervé Leger and Akris, and clomps across the stage in Christian Louboutin stilettos. The late Janet Malcolm, in a 2016 Profile of Wang for this magazine, devoted considerable space to the pianist’s couture, arguing that it is less a contradiction than an accentuation of her athletic performance style: “The sense of a body set in urgent motion by musical imperatives requires that the body not be distractingly clothed.”


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