Krista Soriano, Elle
Across various industries and worlds, there’s a goal that’s easily translatable: to excel. Great achievement—won through dedicated work and a determination to improve—has been associated with Rolex for generations, making the brand’s collaboration with ambassadors from a range of fields feel right. In an ongoing partnership with Rolex, we explore the journeys of these exceptional women.
She may not be able to pinpoint what it was about the Tchaikovsky ballet that played during her mother’s dance rehearsal, but Yuja Wang remembers being blown away by its beauty. It was this kind of music appreciation that made piano lessons for a six-year-old an easy sell. And by the time the Beijing native was seven, she was playing at international recitals.
Wang left China at 14 to train at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and never looked back. She currently lives in New York City—not that you’d be able to spot her in sunglasses, clutching a coffee: The calendar on her website lists bookings through June 2018, and between now and then she’ll be bouncing between orchestras all over Europe and North America. Last year, she conquered Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” sonata, considered one of the most complex piano pieces ever written. This fall, her plan is to start conducting while playing.
But don’t you need one hand to orchestrate and two to play?
“I’ll just use my heels,” she jokes, with a laugh. In all seriousness, she’ll simultaneously play Beethoven and command an entire orchestra without a baton. “It’s certainly another territory, but that’s what’s fun about being a pianist: There’s endless opportunities to explore, and you never know where it leads you.”
Below, Wang explains why she’s still striving for more.
On her introduction to music:
“My parents are musicians. My dad is a percussionist and my mom is a dancer. Their piano was actually a wedding gift. It was just sitting there, so I tried it like a big toy. I started liking music, and the piano seems to be able to imitate all the instruments in an orchestra. It all started with having fun. It was a hobby—an experiment.”
On going down a creative path:
“I was very lucky because my parents had no expectations for me, and I think that’s why I always viewed music as something fun and not something I had to do. Actually, they probably didn’t want me to be a musician because they know how much work and time you have to put into it.”
On leaving home at 14:
“It wasn’t planned. I got into this amazing school, the Curtis Institute of Music, and just decided to stay. I was not scared at all. You know, at that age the biggest dream is actually to leave home without any parental control. So that’s exactly what I wanted, and it was good training for me to be independent and take care of myself because as a pianist, I’m alone on the road all the time.”
On being called a prodigy:
“One publication called me a 28-year-old prodigy, which is an oxymoron. I do think there’s a connection between being a musician and being very childlike. We never really grow up. We just look at everything creatively with a fresh mind.”
On taking time off:
“It’s crucial to take vacations. Yes, it’s good to practice every day and sometimes the more you practice—if you’re inspired, of course—the better you get. But some days, the more you practice, the worse you get. I give concerts so much, so it’s always a balance.”
On honing concentration:
“I have a new rule, which is performing with the whole audience in the dark. It feels much more intimate. And I’m not aware of the space, except for me on stage under the spotlight. I had really bad eyesight until age 20. And then after I had laser surgery, the first stage after the surgery was Carnegie. I could see everyone’s face all of a sudden, and that really freaked me out. Before, it was really just a black mass of people. I also had longer hair and I liked to have my hair cover my face like a curtain so I’m not aware of the audience. I’m aware of their energy, but I realized when I’m playing, the more concentrated and unaware of the surroundings I am, the better I play.”
On becoming a Rolex ambassador:
“I felt very, very privileged and honored. I get so much inspiration from the other sports ambassadors and musicians, so it’s nice to be in this group. I remember just after I joined, I met Roger Federer and I was extremely inspired by him, of course, as a tennis player but also as a human being.”
On how style impacts a performance:
“Before I turned 14, I remember my mom was strict about keeping my outfits simple. So when I came to this country by myself, I was very happy about the freedom of my aesthetic choices. People always ask which brand I’m wearing. Performing is not about brands. It’s about how the cloth actually feels on the body and what it does, especially on stage. I always wear solid colors because color affects the mood; the first thing that impacts people in a live concert is visual. And I still keep it simple but also wear something that gives me confidence to be myself.”
On learning from athletes:
“Being a musician challenges us emotionally, mentally, physically and we constantly need to balance between the body, mind and soul. I really admire what the athletes do: not drinking, sleeping—all those things which, in my 20s, would seem so boring. But if we think about longevity of any career, it is totally that: to not just have the instant gratification, but rather to think ahead. I don’t have anything that I want to achieve, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any goals in what I do artistically. There’s always something higher to strive for.”
On new pursuits:
“I’m going to start conducting this fall. So when I do a concert with an orchestra, I’m playing and conducting at the same time. As far as composing, with all these concerts, it’s really hard to find time to actually write anything. But I love people who can improvise, and I wish I could do that. It’s coming, though, I hope. Maybe in ten years.”
On why performing is more than a joy:
“I think the whole thing is a challenge. We devote our lives to one thing, whether it’s tennis for Roger Federer or music, for us. But I think there’s joy of sacrificing as well. I feel like sacrificing is what brings meaning to life. Otherwise, if it were just joy, I’d get bored.”