CHRIS REVIEWS: Yuja Wang (in concert at the Barbican, 2018)

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"On a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time." - Jon Landau, after seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert

There were moments last night while watching Yuja Wang’s performance at the Barbican—perhaps during her third, or fourth, or fifth, or sixth, or seventh encores—that I wondered if this is how it felt to catch Bruce Springsteen in concert on one of those nights when he just won’t stop playing--one of those legendary three or four hour long shows that leave you feeling certain that you are in the presence of someone both preternaturally gifted and deeply in love with their art.

Star Wars taught me to love classical music, and in particular a certain kind of brassy orchestra. Immortal Beloved taught me to understand music. There’s a line in that film where Beethoven says, “It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer. The listener has no choice. It is like hypnotism.”

One of the magical things about Yuja Wang is that, even if you have little knowledge of her chosen art, to see her perform--to see her throw her life and muscle and heart into this struggle with a musical instrument--is to fall in love. You are hypnotized. You have no choice.

Much is often made of Wang's outfits, and they are remarkable in that what she chooses to wear does often draw a lot of remarks.

I have read many such people remarking as to how her looks distract from their ability to listen to the music.

I would recommend that these people stay at home or close their eyes.

For me, I am fairly certain that humans are, for the most part, made of flesh and blood. I came to see Yuja Wang play the piano and nothing she wore distracted me from the fact that I was seeing Yuja Wang play piano.

At the start of her fourth encore, the audience began to go a little batty. Perhaps, like me, they couldn't quite believe their eyes, or ears. As the night wore on, and the encores kept coming, and the giddy bursts of laughter continued, Yuja played into it, sometimes staying off stage for several minutes, and then returning, bowing multiple times and then plomping down and shrugging her shoulders as if to say, "I don't even know, but okay, one more."

Other times, she hardly walked off at all. Sometimes she didn't even bother with a bow. She fashioned for us instead just a quick smile and then it was down to business.

At some point, in the madness of this never-ending show, I began very nearly to cry. Because, to be sure, what she was playing was chest-thompingly beautiful, but also there was something simply about the chance to witness this extraordinary thing that she, and other humans, can do.

To witness so much passion corralled and channelled through her blood and bone and muscles into this indifferent instrument—this contraption of ivory and wood and thread.

It is not exactly like witnessing the big bang. But, for me, on this night, it was close enough.

In the end, during her last encore, Wang could barely contain herself. She stood over the piano, and she tore a hole in space and time, playing with such ferocity that her body floated free of all limitations, the turn of the earth so much wasted effort.