Friday, October 29, 2021

The Thing About Yuja Wang

So now that yet another row has developed about Yuja Wang's clothes, here's the thing: on the one hand, you don't have to listen with your eyes open. Just close your eyes or put on a CD, open a video in a window you don't look at, and listen to what she's offering. The problem is that what she's offering is incredibly shallow and robotic.
Without looking at her, listen to this performance of the Chopin preludes. The Chopin preludes contain some of the sexiest, most romantic music ever written. It is literally the music of love in both its joys and heartbreak, but nearly every note sounds brittle and cast in steel. She still plays like she's in conservatory and every note is being played to impress a faculty jury. I can't find a single wrong note, there are deeply impressive soft dynamics, but every single bend of the phrase sounds coached and forced. No inner voices are brought out and there is no sense of the piano's infinite variety of color. But except for #8 in F-Sharp Major, which is genuinely impressive, it's all just monochrome and dull, loud or soft. She's playing as though she's just reading symbols on a page. There phrases have no rise and fall, the rhythms have barely any ebb and flow, and her sound in the loud passages is so brittle and percussive that it's just ugly.
Technically, Yuja Wang may be the single most formidable pianist in the world, but in the head, heart, and soul, where is she? Occasionally she gives glimpses of the human being within, and what's inside is not that attractive either. There are the shows with Igutesman and Joo where she does comedy that plays to all kinds of yellowface stereotypes. Perhaps she just doesn't know better, but to not know better than that at 35 is indicative of an immaturity that will stay permanent.
As far as I'm concerned, Yuja Wang can wear whatever she wants. She can come onstage wearing a swan like Bjork, and she'd still deserve to be judged by the ear alone rather than the eye, but to anybody who's really listening, what comes to the ear is so lacking that her approach to clothes is indicative of her artistic approach, which is so on the surface that the clothes almost seem like a deliberate distraction from her lack of substance. She may be the most technically formidable pianist in the world, she's also a pianist who'd have no reason to get an international career if she looked like Yefim Bronfman.
I admit, unless they're gay, I have a lot of distrust and contempt for attractive artists. Perhaps the problem is me, but I don't really think so. My experience has always been that attractive people are completely unaware of how charmed they have it and attractiveness can stunt compassion as much as whiteness or maleness. People just give them things and attractive people rely on their aesthetic appeal as much as white people rely on their whiteness. It is so easy for people who have never known daily rejection to simply perform heartbreak without having really experienced it. Ugly people are subject to all the same sexual pressures and terrors, perhaps not as consistently, but because ugly people have known so much rejection, the relationships, when they happen, tend toward a kind of dysfunctionality attractive people really, really don't understand. I could try to explain it but I'd be here all week.
So since we're now in an era when so many people believe that identity matters in every interaction, I do believe that an objectively measurable aesthetic identity influences the way people live their lives as much as any other form of identity. When I hear Myra Hess, Guiomar Novaes, Gina Bachauer, the Marias Yudina and Grinburg, I hear that inner depth that comes from an artist communicating substance rather than effect. One is a naked communicating from the heart, the other clothes a lack of heart.

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