Music review: Pianist Yuja Wang makes breathtaking Santa Cruz debut

Heather J. Morris, Santa Cruz Sentinel

In last Saturday night’s performance of the Santa Cruz Symphony, Yuja Wang showed that the superlatives that had been bandied about in anticipation of her appearance in Santa Cruz were not unfounded.

Her performance with the Symphony was stunning. In an all-concerto concert Yuja played two highly contrasting works that are recognized as being some of the most difficult in the repertoire and she played them with a precision and depth of understanding that took your breath away.

As one of the most sought-after pianists in the world today touring with some of the greatest orchestras in the world, performing in the premier concert halls around the globe, just how did Yuja come to play in that gem amongst roller derby stadiums and basketball courts of the Central Coast known as the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium to play with a regional orchestra, even one on a rising trajectory?

Well, the secret is out, folks. When Symphony conductor Daniel Stewart took up his baton in Santa Cruz three years ago, he was able to draw on his many connections with artists he had studied and worked with over the years, especially during his work as assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and his studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. One of his fellow students at the Curtis was Yuja Wang and it’s this former association that enabled Stewart to bring the highest profile classical music soloist ever to be heard in Santa Cruz to the stage on Saturday evening.