SFCM: Yuja Wang on Practicing, Performing, and Sushi


Pianist Yuja Wang visited SFCM for a master class in April. Get to know the critically acclaimed musician and her advice for young artists.

Known for her charismatic artistry and captivating stage presence, Yuja Wang is one of the world’s most celebrated pianists. Her skills and reputation took center stage in April when she came to SFCM for a master class, where eager students filled the Barbro Osher Recital Hall at the Bowes Center.

Born into a musical family in Beijing, Wang started studying piano at just six years old. After her childhood studies in China, she received more advanced training in North America as a teenager and her international breakthrough came in 2007 when she replaced Martha Argerich as soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and dazzled audiences.

With a succession of critically acclaimed performances and recordings, including being named Musical America’s Artist of the Year in 2017, she has fully established herself among the world’s leading artists.

During the master class, Wang worked with students and gave advice not only on piano playing but on working as a musician in today’s world. “It was such an honor to meet such a famous performer,” said piano student Jihye Kim, a postgraduate student currently working with Corey McVicar, “The biggest takeaway for me was Yuja Wang’s great energy and confidence,” she continued. “I think that’s something to be learned as a performer. It was inspiring to see such a gentle person give off so much charisma and energy.”

Wang also worked on stage with piano student Parker Van Ostrand who called it surreal, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience getting to play in her masterclass. Her demonstrations, especially in the quiet, more lyrical sections, were so magical and atmospheric, Van Ostrand said. “I’ll never forget the sound she was able to get out of the piano,” he added. Van Ostrand is a freshman student of Garrick Ohlsson and Jon Nakamatsu.
Wang was in San Francisco performing as part of San Francisco Symphony’s recital series and, in addition to the master class, she spoke with the SFCM Newsroom to share tips, and what she is most excited for in the future of music.

What are you currently listening to? 

I am listening to Klaus Mäkelä’s new Sibelius box set with the Oslo Philharmonic. My planned concerts with him and the orchestra were canceled last year due to coronavirus travel restrictions, so I finally got to work with him in Paris for the first time a few weeks ago and we have lots more projects coming up too, which I’m looking forward to.

How do you prepare for performances? 

It really depends on the performance and where I am in the world. I love to walk, and most performance days include a stroll through whichever city I’m in, hopefully in the sunshine! I find that some music needs to be fresh and spontaneous like sushi (which I love to eat!) and others need time to marinate in order to show their true colors and character. This reflects in how I prepare for each concert.

What is your biggest piece of advice for young musicians today? 

Don’t think of practice as a chore or as work, but instead as a creativity lab where you have time, choice and freedom to discover. This is a precious time where you’re entitled to have your own conversations with the composers, exploring what they are really saying, as well as developing your own voice in portraying your conversations through the music. It’s a luxury to find space when practicing to enhance these dialogues.

What would you tell your younger self? 

Believe in yourself and enjoy each moment.

What are you most excited for in the future of classical music? 

Music in general is a necessity for life, it feeds our souls and adds something profound to our physical environment. Different personalities of course respond to different genres. I’m always amazed how resourceful and diverse classical music can be, and how it can be relatable to so many people from all over the world. I’m excited to see how future musicians can drive classical music forward, and continue to think creatively.