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Saturday October 25, 2014
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Pianist Yuja Wang at Hill

 

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drop of real emotion, most virtuosos can at least sound like they have something to say. Think Carlos Santana, Stan Getz, or Pinchas Zukerman.

Sensitivity is much harder--much, much harder. A profound understanding of a work's deepest aesthetic meanings and the ability to communicate that understanding to an audience with overwhelming immediacy is the heart and soul of a great performance. But while virtuosity can be learned, and expressivity can be imitated, sensitivity is nearly impossible to fake, and in art as in love, fake sensitivity is frankly repulsive.

This brings us to Chinese piano players in general and Yuja Wang in particular. Like her slightly older countrymen Lang Lang and Yundi Li, Wang is manifestly a stupendous virtuoso and an extremely expressive performer. On her tours since graduating from the Curtis Institute in 2008 and her recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Wang has displayed these qualities with a lack of inhibition that has shocked some and thrilled many others.

And like Lang and Li, Wang has been dogged by critics' charges of insensitivity. I agreed, finding her playing on record to be staggeringly virtuosic and extravagantly expressive--not even Maurizio Pollini is more technically accomplished, nor is Vladimir Horowitz more emotionally flamboyant--but also utterly insensitive. If Wang had any idea what the music she was playing meant or any feeling for its aesthetic meaning, she didn't communicate it to me in her performances.

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