Yuja Wang is a talented 24-year-old Chinese pianist, whose short party dress caused quite a stir at the Hollywood Bowl last summer. She's not really sure why her dress garnered so much attention. After all, it was a hot summer night, she was making her Hollywood Bowl premiere, and she was playing her favorite Rachmaninoff concerto. She was ready to party.
Yuja Wang has just made her fourth solo recording, Fantasia, and you could say that night life is actually one of the themes of the album.
"I guess every piece on there has a lot to do with the characters I want to depict. There's always a storyline. 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' — in my mind, there's that story from Disney. And the 'Danse Macabre,' of course, there's the twelve bells in the beginning, the witches come out, there's a dance of skeletons and it's very festive — but in a very kind of sick and perverted way. But it's at night, so it's dark and it's fun. Kind of evil, but fun?"
The cover art for Fantasia features Yuja Wang perched on a grand piano, looking a bit like the black swan, dressed in a red flowing skirt and black, fluffy wings. It's a visual representation of what you'll find on this recording: music depicting the age-old struggle between the dark side and the angelic side.
Yuja Wang's mother was a dancer, so it's not surprising Yuja's first experience with classical music was a production of Tchaikovsky's ballet, 'Swan Lake.' "Well, that wasn't the only one she brought me to, and there were lots of orchestra rehearsals because my dad is a percussionist," Yuja explains. "It just really made me love this kind of music. And I think that carried with me. That's why I play so much Russian music now."
There are three etudes by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff on this new release. Yuja Wang says Rachmaninoff is one of her heroes, as a composer, and as a pianist. "I think there's a unity in his music. People think of him as being very old-fashioned at that time. He and Strauss both stayed with their own voice, and I really admire them. The more we listen to his music, the more we hear his soul."
Yuja Wang has visited every country featured on this recording several times, including Spain, which is represented with works by Bizet and Isaac Albeniz. "I love the Spanish temperaments and color of their lifestyle. This one is one of my favorites from 'Iberia,' which is twelve really complicated and finger-twisting pieces, because Albeniz was a big fan of Liszt."
You might be wondering, Is the title of Yuja Wang's recording related to Disney's Fantasia? In fact it was that original 1940 production that inspired her to create her own transcription of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," by Paul Dukas. "I remember really clearly the first time I heard that piece, when I was nine years old," she explains. "I was watching the Disney Fantasia. And I still remember that theme, I remember that room, and the whole story. I decided to do the transcription last year and played it for my Carnegie Hall debut, as one of the encores."
All of these pieces are encores that you might hear this spirited young artist play spontaneously at the end of a recital. "I consider them short stories," she clarifies, "but really, they are my favorite pieces that I like to play and I like to create different atmospheres." On this recording, Yuja Wang shares 18 of her favorite short stories, some of which are quite lovely, while others are a bit devilish.