Just look at Yuja Wang, the whizbang pianist currently wowing 'em on concert stages, particularly at the Hollywood Bowl where this gorgeous 25-year-old recently played.
You need to know that she's the hottest example of what our screen-crazed world has produced. And the mammoth amphitheater could not be a more perfect place to advertise her extra-musical charms.
Now, by mentioning this up front I do not minimize her virtuosity - prodigious and stunning by any standard — but that subject is not the news. Screens, screens everywhere is. They're numerous on most restaurant walls, sky high in open-air malls, hand-held by a majority of passers-by. So it's no surprise that some performers at the Bowl, with its mega screens now, are taking huge publicity advantage of our picto-tronic world where everything is a giant-sized close-up.
Remember what happened last year, when Wang played not only the Steinway but for the Jumbotron at the 18,000-seat outdoor showplace? In her mini bandage dress, an orangey-red thing not much bigger than a swim suit and her stiletto-heeled sandals, she sent an image that carried to newspapers and also went viral on the internet.
As a mere starlet or model, Wang would hardly stand out from the crowd. But as a prototype of this generation's burning technicians - those keyboard wizards who can take on the literature's blockbusters and play faster, louder, softer than the norm; who can grab up the dense-est, knottiest passages with what seems like 20 fingers, pound out the octaves with thrilling weight and excitement - her physical appearance is, to put it mildly, unexpected.
Maybe it's proof that women can have it all, including a multi-faceted feminine identity (thank you, at last, Helen Gurley Brown.) And that a serious virtuosa like Wang can compete in the sex-doll sweepstakes no matter how dissonant that chic vamp image might have seemed in the realm of classical music.
In any case, she has mapped out an m. o. by now. And for this second Bowl date she looked as ready for her close-up as before - bare arms and shoulders above a purple gown, with a slit to the high thigh that angled to the audience. Last year, also playing with the LA Philharmonic led by Gustavo Dudamel, she championed Rachmaninoff's murderously hard Third Piano Concerto, aka "Rach Three." This time it was Tchaikovsky's First. (Incidental intelligence: Van Cliburn played both, back-to-back on a single Bowl program some years ago.)
On both of Wang's outings there was that soupcon of disbelief: a kitten at the keyboard -- so petite, but commanding it, conquering it. She could make the sound of a cat's paws skipping over the ivories but a ferocious tiger, too. She knew where the work waxed and waned, how to set up for the big, cadential flourishes and had full grasp of its overall structure as well as the ability to let loose for free-floating lyricism. To boot, there were unstoppable driving furies and an elastic snap to vehement passages.
No matter that there was also a share of dropped notes. Indoor listening, though, would tell if Wang could deliver the inner poetry of this and other music, as well.
Dudamel and the orchestra seemed to be in sync with her most of the time, although theirs was not an ideal collaboration - at least not here.
The Bowl, with its amplification infidelities and sundry environmental disturbances, hardly provides a testing ground. And that strangeness also beset what came next: the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony. What I heard, courtesy of Dudamel & Co., was a kind of reductionism, notwithstanding the lovely second movement tune — as though the work was a collection of etudes, each performed with great care (except for horn bobbles), but almost tediously. It can be this way at our musical oasis under the stars, even though sheltered by those surrounding Aleppo Pines (yes, trees from the besieged Syrian city.)