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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

Beijing-born pianist, Yuja Wang, says she started tinkering with the keys when she was about six years old.

(Soundbite of piano)

CORNISH: Her childhood was filled with the usual child-virtuoso circuit of concerts and competitions in China, Spain and Germany, and with instruction from top conservatories in the U.S. and Canada. But by the time she was 18, Wang had carved out an interesting niche for herself as a kind of pinch hitter the one to call when older, perhaps more seasoned big-name pianists couldnt make it to their engagement.

(Soundbite of piano)

CORNISH: Now, at 22, Yuja Wang is headlining a project of her own, her debut CD, Sonatas and Etudes. She joins us now from our New York Bureau. Yuja Wang, welcome.

Ms. YUJA WANG (Pianist; Sonatas and Etudes): Nice to be here.

CORNISH: Now, the first thing I want to talk about is the fact that youve been nominated for a Grammy on your debut album. Can you describe how you heard about that? What your first reaction was?

Ms. WANG: Well, I was very - it was very unexpected for me, of course, and I actually heard it the next morning because of those messages on Facebook. All my friends saying congratulations on the Grammy nomination. I was like, what are you guys talking about?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WANG: And then I heard it from my manager and who was like, hey, congratulations. I said, how does people get to know this? So, it was a very, very nice surprise for me. And I did not expect that because it was only my first CD.

CORNISH: Now, you did have a lot of the intensive training as a really young person, right, six and seven. And your first concert you were only seven.

Ms. WANG: Yeah, I had a fake pedal down there like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WANG: ...because I couldnt reach the pedal and they have a box thing.

CORNISH: So your feet were sort of dangling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WANG: And surprisingly, all of them are on YouTube.

CORNISH: Its actually not so surprising its on YouTube because one of the places I saw you play was actually on YouTube as well. And it was of all things Flight of the Bumblebee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Were going to listen to that for just a little bit.

(Soundbite of music, Flight of the Bumblebee)

CORNISH: Listening to that now, I mean, its sort of fun and I know youve got this wonderful debut CD of Sonatas but playing a song like that to a YouTube audience, whats the value in that for you?

Ms. WANG: Well, this is a tune that everyone knows, but its just so much harder because while listening to it, it sounds like a very big Bumblebee. And watching it, because thats a point on YouTube, its even more effective.

CORNISH: Youre saying, visually, you can convey (unintelligible).

Ms. WANG: Yeah. Yes. Visually its even more cool. And thats why I love live concerts because you can take the music in aurally and visually.

(Soundbite of music, Flight of the Bumblebee)

CORNISH: So, talk a little bit about how you decided what you wanted to present in your debut album?

Ms. WANG: Well, at first we were thinking about doing an anchor piece like the Bumblebee, or people probably saw or The Turkish March, or Carmen, those really hard transgressions and fun pieces. Theyre totally (unintelligible), people get really impressed by them at first. But I thought about it because I want to present myself as a serious musician. I mean, those are fun, but what Im really into are those lyrical, big, romantic pieces and contemporary stuff.

CORNISH: Could you talk us through one of the tracks on the album?

Ms. WANG: Yes. Well, theres the Liszt Sonata, for example, which is a humongous work because that would take a lifetime to digest that huge work. Its basically, its like an autobiography of Liszt himself, or some people think it is a story by Faust.

(Soundbite of music, Liszt Sonata)

Ms. WANG: So, it was really fun to learn the whole piece and the whole piece lasted 30 minutes.

CORNISH: So, it takes some stamina.

Ms. WANG: Yes, and actually I want to make it, present as a whole piece. So, I just recorded twice instead of playing little by little and put it together. I wanted to present it as a whole unified structure.

(Soundbite of music, Liszt Sonata)

Ms. WANG: And for contemporary stuff, theres a Ligeti, two Ligeti, which I love. I think its totally jazzy and fun to play. Its very hard. Its like splitting the brain to learn them.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. WANG: But once I learned it, its worth the work.

(Soundbite of music)

CORNISH: Now, you are nominated for a Grammy and youre still, you know, 22.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WANG: Yes.

CORNISH: ...youve got a while to go.

Ms. WANG: Mm-hmm.

CORNISH: Youve got the attention of the classical world and now the Grammy nomination, you know, essentially the world itself. And Im wondering how youre feeling about this moment of your life, especially since, I read you werent even originally considering the piano as a professional career.

Ms. WANG: I know, I think I just I think thats the best attitude, I guess. My mom is a dancer, and I tried dancing and I tried everything. And I love fashion as well. So, Im definitely into the creative artistic part but piano for me, I do love music. I dont like to play the piano, but I love music, thats why Im playing the piano.

CORNISH: And you just said you dont like to play the piano.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Repeat that or (unintelligible) that.

Ms. WANG: Piano, well, for me is just an instrument that could do whatever I want to do with music. Music is what interested me, what intrigues me.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. WANG: I love opera. I love watching ballet. I love symphonic music more than piano music. But since piano could do whatever the orchestra, the whole orchestra can do, I chose piano.

(Soundbite of music)

CORNISH: Well, whether youre sick with the piano or not...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: ...we appreciate your music and we appreciate you for coming on the show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WANG: Thank you.

CORNISH: Pianist Yuja Wang, her debut CD is called Sonatas and Etudes. She joins us from our New York bureau. Thank you.

Ms. WANG: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

CORNISH: You can hear Yuja Wang playlist on our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

CORNISH: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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