Yuja Wang performing in Switzerland. Nicolas Brodard | Verbier Festival
She's perky, slight, cute as the dickens, gorgeously attired, unfazed by her own personal chic -- not to mention her fashionably revealing concert garb -- and, by now, she's the paragon that much of the world knows her to be: a whiz-bang virtuosa who is utterly indefatigable.
Yuja Wang is that singular pianist.
So do forget any previous notions you may have of how a keyboard wonder should appear. Were you thinking the bearded Radu Lupu, shlumpfing onstage to his little straight-backed chair (not a piano bench) where he communed with the Brahmsian heavens? Or the bespectacled Alfred Brendel, who duck-walked unprepossessingly to his Steinway before unraveling the likes of Beethoven? Or other deep-minded poets of pianism? Or those fustian personages of the classical concert world?
None of those fits Wang. For starters, she steps out onstage to audience oglers, wall to wall, who are rightfully expecting a runway vision. She belongs to her millennial generation. And to its current culture. She is her own person, with highest credentials in a music realm that no mere pop performer could even conjure, much less master.
Remarkably she tosses off gargantuan challenges with the ease of a wizard. No sweating brow to be mopped at intervals. No sign of exhaustion at the end of her travails. Just petite Yuja bouncing around on her bench, hair flying, long svelte bare arms and curved slender hands going at blur-speed over the keys.
It was Bartok this time, an actual mini-fest with Wang and Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic closing out their Disney Hall season with the Hungarian composer's piano three concertos book-ended by other eastern Europeans, Stravinsky and Janacek -- all of it a swell sweep through the 20th-century sound of the region.
Especially so was the 2nd Piano Concerto in the duo's expert hands -- she letting loose a glittery splash of passage work with octaves exploding in a spray of splintered crystals, then pressing back in a feathery mist of languor haunted by a percussionist's low drum-roll rumble.
And let's pause here to note the astonishing Bartokian innovations throughout these rarely played pieces, which Dudamel keenly noted in cueing his ever-alert musicians. Often a single unexpected instrument entered into a dialogue with the piano protagonist. And the crashing orchestral accents were in perfect sync with her. All of it was scintillating.
But just in case that featured work was not enough Wang played an unprecedented three encores -- count 'em, three -- to audience demand: her own flashy (of course) extrapolation of Mozart's "Turkish" March rondo, the three-part "Petrushka" excerpt and, in case, you thought there might be too little inwardness in her musical mind, Schubert's "Gretchen am Spinnrade."
Finally she traipsed offstage, her long slinky spandexy gown covering her spike-heeled shoes and uncovering her back to the waist, while some ticket buyers might have asked "What's wrong with this picture?" Or "Does the phenomenal performance match the high-glam vision?" And "Can the two co-exist in the mind of the beholders?"
The answer: Get used to it. And don't be surprised when every major concert presenter not only books Yuja Wang regularly but makes sure to splash her picture across its brochure. Who says an eyeful doesn't crank up the concert hall boxoffice? After all, a rarity like this is an audience draw. And besides, there's the suspense factor: Will her next costume, again, be a thigh-high bandage dress? Atop 5-inch platforms?...
But life goes on in the ordinary realm, too, where black formal attire, and stiff white shirts bring their own accustomed comfort -- the magic there surely does not escape us when Dudamel & Co. ply their deep musical resources.
That's what happened in the orchestra's Schubert/Mahler cycle. The playing, on the night with Schubert's Fifth Symphony, had a chamber music quality that was unearthly -- an overall delicacy, with instrumentals finely-honed like bells pealing, their voices so distinct and clear yet unified. This was not the formatted Schubert we often hear, pedaled on rhythmic repetitions.
It was different. And so was the Sixth, which ended the evening. Dudamel had the band springing and swinging to rhythms he alone perhaps could elucidate. Much of it is a dance, according to his ear. And the orchestra had him -- as a dancer -- at its helm, with every hemidemisemi-quaver transmitted through his raised eyebrow, his shrugged shoulder, or his elegant swoop down to urge on the violins.
We're left to wonder: has there ever been a conductor who telegraphs the music so indelibly through his entire mobile body?
At the mid-point, a perfect juncture between the two symphonies, came Mahler's Rückert Lieder, with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke penetrating the pure unadorned stream of mortal release these poetic songs speak to -- hard to do in these times when everything comes in coarse, overblown rhetoric.
Not least, the evening boasted the valedictory sentiments spoken to the outgoing CEO Deborah Borda and by her. So if you were not there, just try to imagine the hugs and kisses and spontaneous affection pouring out on the Disney stage.
Leave-taking is one thing but repeat visits are also an occasion-- as with choreographer Matthew Bourne and what he calls his current touring production, "Early Adventures," hosted by the Wallis.
Of course everything Sir Matthew does and always has done is an adventure -- remember his "Swan Lake," our first encounter with his style of upending the classic ballet? How he included the Royals (specifically the Diana-Charles saga) as narrative and gender-swapped the swans' personas?
At first glance the purist New York critics cringed, without penetrating his brilliant satire tinged with sweet comedy, his portrayal of menacing male swans (no fluttering females), his masterly dance segments -- but later caught on. And his record of sold-out shows over the past two decades, not to mention awards in every theatrical arena, has easily topped other dance companies.
So it's no surprise that umpteen productions later he's bringing us works he made before that time, the early '90s, and while they may not ultimately measure up to his best efforts they offer some delicious kernels of insight woven into movement.
Nothing struck me more than the urban episode of "Town and Country," which Bourne subtitled "Lie back and think of England." Perfect. It entailed the Brits' fussy, outdated norms of behavior, barely hiding the under side of libidinous cravings -- all seen at a posh hotel. Especially evocative is the shy, awkward beginnings of a couple -- one man sitting timidly, legs tight together, and embroidering (yes, embroidering) while the other, a punctilious waiter, serves him tea. Later on, we see them strutting arm in arm, a unit of woven togetherness, almost smugly inviolable.
It's these images that stay etched in the mind. Dance theater at this level needs no words, nor endless choreographed routines.