Yuja Wang Thread

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Yuja Wang Thread

Postby pianoman » Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:47 pm

I didn't know her mother was a dancer. My impression of Yuja is that she has a strong sense of rhythm but her passage work can be capricious. I guess it's part of her character to be more of a free spirit. She's lived in the Canada and the US since the age of 14 and says that she never thought about having an international career as a concert pianist, that "her hobby just became her profession." She also lists her influences: Pollini, Rubinstein and Kissin from her mother and Sokolov, Pletnev and Keith Jarrett as an adult.

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http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Art ... undry.aspx

Yuja Wang: Managing the piano, conductors and the laundry
By Clive Paget on Apr 12, 2014

The 27-year-old Chinese piano star talks about her influences, standing in for Argerich and doing her own laundry.

It’s great to talk! Where are you, out of curiosity?

I just flew into Toronto from New York this morning. I played a Chinese New Year Concert last night in the Lincoln Center.

And did that go well?

... ah, yeah – for one run-through [laughs]

May I ask about your childhood? Your mother is a dancer. Were you ever tempted to follow her?

Well, she wanted me to be a dancer but I was too lazy to move around. [laughs] But we did have a piano at home and I guess I was just more interested.

Who first taught you piano?

Nobody really, it was just one of the hobbies that my mother tried to educate me in. There was dancing, calligraphy, painting – she’d always take me to the dance rehearsals. And I liked the listening more than the watching so I started to try to play things on the piano. It was just fun at first – nothing really professional at all until I had this teacher for seven years in China.

So who was the first pianist you really listened to?

There were three: Pollini, Rubinstein and Evgeny Kissin. I remember it very clearly because I didn’t hear any other piano playing until I was 11 or 12. They were the first three things I heard.

And was that listening at home?

Yeah, they were on CD. And then I heard Pogorelić and Berman in live concerts in China.

Do you have piano role models yourself?

Not really. I mean, I get really inspired when I hear an amazing concert. But mostly I go to symphonic concerts. I like watching the conductor and listening to the sounds they create. Pianist-wise, right now I really like Sokolov and Pletnev, and I’m a big fan of Keith Jarrett – and of course Horowitz, but I never heard him live.

Funnily enough you have quite a lot of repertoire in common with Horowitz. There’s a definite similarity.

Yeah, well my teacher at Curtis [Institute of Music] who I studied with for six years – that’s Gary Graffman – he was Horowitz’s student.

Ah, so you’re a student of a student of Horowitz?

[laughs] I guess you can say that.

So how did you know that you might have a chance of an international career? Was there a point where you thought, “this might be for me”?

No, I never really thought of it. My hobby just became my profession, I guess. You know, I feel pretty jobless right now as a normal person. I did have concerts even half a year after I started piano – as something for fun – and so I guess the performance aspect was integrated into anything I learned.

And how old were you then?

I was seven.

And was that in Beijing?

Yes. But actually, the first country I came to out of China was Australia! I remember I was seven and I went to Australia for 12 days and then I was in Paris for a week.

And you played in Perth?

Yes, I played about seven of Haydn’s sonatas and some Chinese music.

So that was your Australian debut?

[laughs] Yeah.

Have you been back here since then?

No, never.

Any plans?

I think so, but I can’t say right now…

So you grew up in Beijing and then you went to study in Philadelphia aged 14. Was that a big change for you?

Not really. The transition was pretty smooth because I was in Canada for a year where I learned the language. And even when I was at home I was pretty much always alone. I had a teacher that I really trusted, but then I was practicing alone, going to school alone, so I didn’t really feel lonely when I moved. The only difference was the food and laundry.

You mean that you had to do them yourself?

Exactly. They were two things I had to take care of myself that I’d never thought of before ­– and it was almost like fun because I’d never made dinner before – I’d just been curious. That age, like 14 or 15 was almost the perfect age to be away from home. I’ve been in America from then until I graduated from Philadelphia at 21 and moved to New York.

And you live in NY now?

Yeah, but I’m hardly there. I just have a base there.

You made your European debut back in 2003 playing with David Zinmann and the Tonhalle. Which conductors have been most important for you?

There’ve been some memorable conductors. But the one that’s really sad to mention right now is Claudio Abbado. I was so lucky to play under him.

That extraordinary Prokofiev – I’ve seen it!

Thanks. Actually my first concerto recording was with him – which I will say doesn’t get any better. And there’s Gustavo Dudamel – but it’s a completely different generation and feel playing with him.

How would you describe the differences between working with Abbado and Dudamel? It was Prokofiev with both of them, wasn’t it?

Gustavo is very high energy – we match pretty well. And his orchestra in Venezuela is just amazingly high-voltage – really involved and really great ensemble playing. He is Claudio’s prodigy. There’s this way of constant listening and a constant awareness of each other, and that makes it much more powerful – the unity of the sound and everything. And his really fast reflexes – for a soloist is just amazing.

And how was Abbado to work with?

Really obscure and mysterious during rehearsals because he didn’t say a word ­– to me at least. And then in the concert, everything just came out. You don’t really know what happens with the gestures or the energy field. There was something intangible in concerts. He made everyone play his or her best and that’s something very special – without even talking, without any words. He also had this intimidating way of such intense listening. I so wanted to experience that again because you only can know through playing music with him.

Nowadays you take top billing but early on you made some very notable replacements, standing in for Radu Lupu on one occasion and Martha Argerich on another. Was that difficult for you, just because of the expectation of someone else’s performance?

No, I think I was too young and so I was pretty fearless! It’s a kind of a cliché to be the young one replacing the master. I pretty much replaced everybody from Yefim Bronfman, Murray Perahia and Kissin even. Of course Martha and Radu Lupu were the most famous. Lupu was the first one in Canada with Zukerman conducting Beethoven Four. It makes one look at life differently, because everything is based on chance. I was really fortunate, in terms of repertoire choices, and I was just so ready at that age. Not exactly the playing, but just ready to just go on stage and be all passionate.

With Martha it was like, “I’m tired… do you want to play with the Boston Symphony for me?” And I’m like “of course! – Wrong question!” [laughs] That was exciting for a while. Every day you don’t know what’s happening. Then the next week it would be, “Murray Perahia has cancelled a tour with St Martins-in-the-Fields, and you play Mozart?” Also I had the ability to learn pieces fast – even a piece I didn’t play. I just focused myself – so it was a way of learning repertoire as well. If you wanted me to do that now it would take a lot of asking!

So does that mean that as you get older, the expectations make your job more difficult in a sense?

No, I think everything is more difficult when one gets older – expectations from others and from myself to be more creative – not to repeat myself. I guess my biggest competitor is probably myself from before. It’s good and there’s so much potential there, but to realise that potential, to actualise it, it needs so much work. And at the same time there are so many concerts so I’m trying just to cope with everything – with travelling, and just being centred with oneself. It’s difficult.

You’ve got a reputation for tackling really big 20th-century works. As a young player, how do you build up the physical strength for that kind of repertoire?

It’s actually easier for me, and more fun for me, to play the Rach Three, the Prokofiev Two – the ones that I just recorded – because the pieces are so physical. There’s a visceral thing that happens on stage that makes me abandon myself. It’s not as subtle and intellectualising as Beethoven, or even playing Debussy or Chopin. It’s easier to let oneself go on stage with Rach Three and pieces like that.

I remember the first time I heard you play Stravinsky’s Three Pieces from Petrushka. The only person that I’ve heard play it with that strength of technique is Pollini. Does that require actual physical strength – do you go to the gym? How do you get that sound?

Well, Pollini really was a big influence. I know his CD – he also plays Pierre Boulez and Webern and Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata. I really adore it. I think it’s probably just the way we are trained or brought up – how we want our sound – because everyone has their personal sound. I change over time I notice, but even with different pianos, every pianist has their own fingerprints almost. Pollini has a really clean-cut, crystal clear transparent sound. Maybe it has to do simply with the shape of the hand, because everyone is different. I’m not quite sure, but that’s a big compliment, thank you.

You’ve been recording Rachmaninov and Prokofiev a lot lately. Obviously they’re important composers to you. Are there other composers that you feel are close to your heart?

I recorded those composers because I feel I’m confident enough now to record them. But Prokofiev, I feel very close to because he’s really naughty and sarcastic with all those really edgy, saucy colours. It changes over time, but I often feel I like Stravinsky and sometimes I love Brahms. Actually, when I really just want to be moved I listen to Schubert.

And what do you plan to record next?

I just did Brahms, actually. Brahms Violin Sonatas with Leonidas Kavakos. It’s coming out really soon on Decca. And that will be my first chamber disc.
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Re: Yuja Wang Thread

Postby pianoman » Thu Jul 09, 2015 6:52 pm

LA Times critic letting fly with the Horowitz comparisons...

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http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/ar ... olumn.html
Pianist Yuja Wang sets off fireworks of her own at the Bowl
Mark Swed
LOS ANGELES TIMES

Dressed in a strapless, snug, sparkling gown with a black zipper down her back Tuesday night, Yuja Wang has clearly become the belle of the Bowl. Ever since her Hollywood Bowl debut four years ago wearing a short skirt that became a fashion statement, in classical music circles at any rate, audiences expect that the 28-year-old Chinese pianist will be a dazzling presence the moment she walks on stage. Hi-def Bowl monitors help.

The dazzle continued for the next 45 minutes in her electrifying performances of Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto followed by Vladimir Horowitz's encore favorite, Variations on a Theme from "Carmen." Hers is a nonchalant, brilliant keyboard virtuosity that would have made both Prokofiev (who was a great pianist) and even the fabled Horowitz jealous.

That electrifying virtuosity too has become expected in Wang. In the century since Prokofiev wrote his concerto, relatively few pianists have dared attempt it (it all but drove the composer to distraction when he played it). Wang has made it her calling card.

She played it at her Los Angeles Philharmonic debut in Walt Disney Concert Hall with Charles Dutoit conducting. She recorded it with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.

This time, joined by Lionel Bringuier, Prokofiev's concerto served to open the Bowl's L.A. Phil season. The French conductor, who is the same age as Wang, had been the conductor at her Bowl debut, and he invited her to play Prokofiev's Second last fall for his first concert as music director of the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich. It takes a lot to animate Swiss audiences, but she and Bringuier managed the near-impossible on that occasion.

Tuesday night, then, became an interesting occasion to take stock of Wang, who has gone from being a young sensation in 2009 to a superstar able to draw an audience of 9,999 to the Bowl. In some ways, she has changed very little from her from the L.A. Phil debut, but in other ways, she has undergone a remarkable transformation.

The technical challenges in the concerto are something she appears to have overcome long ago. She was as utterly secure in the first movement killer cadenza six years ago as she was Tuesday. Her cool, crystalline tone is the same. Her rhythmic sense appears inborn; a machine couldn't manage the perpetual mobile Scherzo more accurately than Wang. She still values contrapuntal clarity.

The flair factor and physicality are the major differences. Her Bowl debut with Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto was her demanding vehicle then, a kind of coming out. Her personal style had been undergoing a makeover from modestly understated to something flashier. Hollywood and the big Bowl screens, however, induced her to startlingly strut her stuff.

There was an almost unreal cockiness in all this, as if Wang had to prove that a femme fatale could also be the next Horowitz. Now that she's proved it, what next? Can she really be the next Horowitz?

She is, obviously, a radically different kind of person than Horowitz, who was a neurotic, hothouse flower of a pianist. Fortunately, Wang is a woman of the world and her time. But where she now resembles Horowitz is in her physicality. She no longer looks to be self-consciously proving herself. Like Horowitz, you get the feeling that her body, not her, is the music, that the connection with the keys is a force greater than mere willpower. Also like Horowitz, Wang exhibits a coolness that, through rhythm and attack, is scalding. The showmanship is intense.

Horowitz, however, never went beyond that. His later career became an attempt to maintain his youthful dazzle. Wang is the perfect 28-year-old pianist, as Horowitz was at his age. But she also appears to be far more sophisticated than Horowitz ever was. Rather than the next Horowitz, she is coming into her own as the first Wang.


In the Prokofiev concerto, Bringuier didn't exactly let his soloist lead, but he did partner very closely, as if happily taking energy from her. He, too, has been a delight to watch come into his own since becoming an assistant conductor of the L.A. Phil at 20.

He opened the concert with a charismatic performance of Borodin's Polovtsian Dances from "Prince Igor." His big piece was Debussy's "La Mer," which he let flow with the naturalness of a conductor who was born in Nice and knows the French sea well. In Ravel's "Boléro," Bringuier did not inhibit individuality in the many instrumental solos, yet they would never have worked without his maintaining an ingratiating fluidity.

There was some final sparkle with glittery fireworks accompanying an encore from Bizet's "L'Arlèsienne" Suites. Fireworks are always a treat at the Bowl, and no less so this time. But on this evening, like an extra dessert, they weren't necessary.


From the comments section:
Genice1947 Rank 0
Mr Mark Swed, your review reads as if you were handed the playbook by the machine that is Ms. Wang's publicity campaign. Swed, spent much of the review reviewing Ms. Wang's clothes and her body. Aside from the obvious and insulting ramifications of Swed's use of misogynistic and leering and salivating words to describe Ms. Wang's body--you sound like a pervert and you should be ashamed of yourself!--is the failure of Swed's review to convince the reader of sincerity. Swed's review is meaningless, because the men that Swed uses to compare Wang with, Prokofiev and Horowitz, are never described with terminology of a sexual innuendo: the bulge in Horowitz's "short" trousers, or the "snug" shirt around Prokofiev's stomach! Or, how their jackets fit their "back"s. When will women ever be taken seriously enough for their art? Certainly not by Swed who goes so far as to then absurdly cross-gender Wang with Horowitz own "physicallity." Glamour and sex appeal, if real, always take second fiddle to true artistry. Maria Callas anyone? Martha Argerich, though never glamours has magnetic power, called charisma, star power. The effort that Swed goes on about concerning Wang's wardrobe only goes to show how she must use these devices to detract from the shortcomings in her artistry. A "machine," is right, though Wang has technique and quick fingers, she lacks the all important soul. Emotionless playing. Near zero musicality. A professional pianist is held to a different light--that being professionals. Sadly, Wang, though confusingly popular, is overrated and presently lacks any real talent of the highest order. She is still somewhat young, and one hopes will continue to grow and mature, but she is not yet "a woman of the world." Though it appears Swed fetishes Wang so.
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Re: Yuja Wang Thread

Postby pianoman » Fri Aug 21, 2015 6:37 pm

Another article from the same publication. Seems like they are recycling interview material here:

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http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/fea ... rce-nature
Yuja Wang: Force of Nature
by Maxim Boon on July 1, 2015

We catch up with the iconoclastic Chinese pianist taking music by the scruff of its neck.

To say that Yuja Wang marches to the beat of her own drum might feel a slightly muddled metaphor to describe a virtuoso pianist.

Perhaps it would be more apt to say that she’s styling to the height of her own hemline. I’m referring of course to Wang’s short dresses (often paired with dangerously high heels) that have attracted almost as much attention from the critical press as her astonishing skills at the keyboard.

Her rock star wardrobe may be far from the most interesting thing about the 28-year-old Chinese musician, but it speaks to the determination and individuality that has driven her meteoric rise to international stardom. Already she has performed in many of the world’s great concert halls along with the world’s greatest orchestras, most recently making her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, performing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 2.

Meanwhile, despite being signed on exclusive contract to classical recording juggernaut Deutsche Grammophon, in characteristically progressive style she has also reached out to millions via YouTube with her blistering performances of Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, and – racking up over 4.5 million views alone – a sparkling performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble-Bee.

With one critically acclaimed performance after another, Yuja Wang has firmly cemented a mixture of jaw-dropping speed, unshakable technique, and a youthful yet audaciously gusty style of playing (despite her diminutive stature) as her stock in trade, and today the demand has never been higher.

It’s little wonder then to learn that a star so rapidly on the rise was born into an artistic family. Wang’s mother, herself a professional dancer, had creative aspirations for her daughter from a very early age. “My mum wanted me to be a dancer like her, but I was too lazy, and I thought the piano was a lot more fun,” Wang explains to me on the phone from her apartment in New York. Prodigiously gifted at the keyboard, Wang’s talent for music soon eclipsed her other early creative pursuits, but despite her immediatley apparent aptitude for the piano, at home in her native Beijing she was just one of many such gifted child musicians.

Wang recalls her earliest international engagement, by coincidence in Perth in Western Australia, at the age of seven, less than a year after beginning to learn the instrument. “I was so excited to be going away for 12 days, and I remember it was such a long flight. We were there as little talents, but I don’t remember that much about the playing – that was the part that was the most familiar to me. Everything else was so different from China.”

Growing up listening to the great European pianists of the 20th century, Evgeny Kissin, Maurizio Pollini and Wilhelm Kempff, and of course the pianist who shared Wang’s love of Romantic repertoire, Vladimir Horowitz, it was clear that in order to reach the fullest extent of her substantial potential she would have to look beyond China’s borders. However it wasn’t Europe that would turn out to nurture her blossoming talents, but the United States, via a brief stint in Canada (where she perfected her English). Aged just 14 Wang relocated to the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, but whereas many of us might assume this must have been a traumatic upheaval for such a young person, for Wang it was the natural next step.

“I remember clearly being age 9 and thinking that 16 was so old! So when I moved overseas by myself at the age of 14, it felt completely normal,” Wang confesses nonchalantly. “Looking back I sometimes think, ‘yes, I was quite young,’ but moving away from home taught me to be responsible for a lot of things and also to be very independent.”

"I didn't think about a type of image I wanted to put out there. I'm just being sincere about who I am."

In her teenage years, flourishing amidst the expressive freedom afforded to her during her studies in the United States, Wang would seize upon the opportunity to play the monumental repertoire of her early piano idols. “As a teenager I had a very strong opinion of my own. I was never one to do what people told me to – I did exactly what I wanted! But I guess all teenagers are like that,” she says, with just a hint or rebellion in her voice. “I got to study all the big Russian repertoire, which was really my dream, because in China I was always told, ‘oh, you have such tiny hands!’ But at Curtis I could play anything I wanted!”

As a musician and artist so clearly psychologically evolved beyond her years (as well as being ferociously determined), Wang’s uninhibited personal styling might, to the casual observer at least, seem like a bit of a contradiction: perhaps more precocious than mature. I’m curious about how consciously has she considered her image? “It developed in very much the same way as I have musically,” she replies. “I didn’t think about a type of image I wanted to put out there. I’m just being sincere about who I am, in a very honest and – not literally of course – exposed way, because that is how I play.”

Consciously or not, Wang has shrugged off many of the dusty stereotypes of classical performance and in doing so captured the attentions of many who are intrigued by her defiance of time-honoured conventions, while raising more than a few eyebrows along the way. In a review in the LA Times following a typical performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 2011, one critic noted, “Had there been any less of the dress, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18, not accompanied by an adult.” Unphased by this kind of scrutiny in the press, for Wang her concert attire has never been about making a fashion statement. “I don’t feel the need to wear a big gown and be somebody else just because tradition says you have to wear a gown for a performance,” she says. “In a way I’m trying to say that what I look like doesn’t matter. I want to feel that I can be myself on stage, focusing on what the sound can communicate, not what I’m wearing.”

Equally paradoxical is Wang’s online successes on video sharing sites like YouTube, where the many clips of her performances have attracted millions of views, playing a vital role in the international scale of her celebrity. “I’m not a big fan of those distractions, in fact I actually think they can be very detrimental,” she says. “As a musician I need to be able to practice, sometimes for hours, without constantly checking the phone. Discipline is really vital, because even though you may think you’ve put the hours in, if you practice without concentration it’s not cool. Someone else looks after my Facebook and Twitter for me now!”

The effortlessness with which Wang has naturally happened upon such a compelling and rewarding public image shares the same tinge of serendipity that mark some of her earliest artistic breakthroughs. Although she commands top billing now, previously as an exciting young artist building a reputation as a star in the making she was invited to cover for some of the world’s most notable pianists, a list of artists that included Murray Perahia, Radu Lupu and, in what can now be viewed as the performance that launched Wang’s career, Martha Argerich at a performance in Boston in March 2007.

Despite being placed squarely in the intensely pressured international spotlight from the age of 20, the magnitude of these pivotal opportunities proved far from overwhelming for the young pianist. Wang recalls them now with a palpable sense of affection. “I guess I was pretty fearless back then. I wasn’t terrified at all, I was like, “Sure, I can do it! That’s awesome! I should definitely be the one to do it!” I was very positive and just so excited to have the opportunity to play a concert. I wasn’t thinking too much about replacing those legends. Perhaps if I had to do it now I might think twice!” she admits.

Wang is just as wistful recalling the surprisingly fortunate connections that these crucially significant performances offered up. “I’ve been so lucky – one thing always led to another. I played for Charles Dutoit, which is how I met Martha. When she asked me to cover for her because she was feeling unwell, I think that’s when Barenboim heard me. When I covered for Murray [Perahia], Claudio [Abbado] heard the concert. Everything was really interconnected, so I feel really very lucky it turned out that way,” she remarks. “I’ve had the chance to step in for everyone I’ve admired. That was kind of my job until I was 21. Except for Pollini, but that’s only because he hasn’t cancelled yet!”

Through a combination of youthful enthusiasm, fabulous talent and sheer luck, Wang has been catapulted through the stratosphere and into the constellation of elite classical superstars. Today however, the breakneck spontaneity of those decisive early engagements has given way to the more rigorously scheduled calendar of an in-demand headline artist, and those engagements standing in for famous pianists have been replaced with appearances sharing the concert platform with the world’s great maestros. I ask, of all the conductors she’s made music with, are there any that really stand out? “I think the most memorable would be Claudio Abbado,” she says with barely a hesitation. The late Italian conductor, one of the finest of the 20th century, who sadly passed away in January 2014, conducted Wang’s first concerto recording for Deutsche Grammophon, as well as some of the pianist’s most acclaimed concert appearances in Europe and China. The relationship was one communicated entirely through the music. “He barely said a word in rehearsals, to me at least. But during performances he could communicate everything with his energy and gestures, through something very intangible. He could always bring the very best out in his musicians, without any words at all,” Wang confides.

Whereas Abbado and Wang shared a nonverbal connection, the pianist has benefitted from a much closer relationship with American maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, or “MTT” as she affectionately calls him. “He’s been a mentor of mine since I was 17. He’s always on top of things and really updated. He’s just a very creative and inspiring person,” Wang says.

However, while she has been championed by some of the most illustrious names of the 20th century, Wang is just as proud of her collaborations with the next wave of great conductors. Among them the irresistibly charismatic Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, with whom Wang recorded Prokofiev’s Concerto No 2 and Rachmaninov’s Concerto No 3 back in 2013, accompanied by the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar. “He’s just so high energy – we match pretty well,” she says of the South American maestro. “He is Claudio’s protégé, and he shares his incredible level of listening and awareness of each other. The unity of sound is everything, and the speed of his reflexes are just amazing for a soloist.”

Another protégé of Claudio Abbado, who Wang will be working with in July when she makes her first trip back to Australia since that early international performance at the age of seven, is Diego Matheuz, Principal Guest Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. While she hasn’t worked with Matheuz before, the pianist will be in familiar musical territory, performing Prokoviev’s Concerto No 2 just as she did with Dudamel in 2013. I wonder, does she expect to share the same connection with Matheuz as she experienced with Dudamel and Abbado? “I’m not sure. I hope so, definitely,” she responds with a slight chuckle.

Before she heads down to Victoria, Wang will make her Australian concerto debut with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of a far more familiar face for the soloist, the conductor Lionel Bringuier. “We’ve played together since we were 19, and this year we’re practically married as I’m an artist-in-residence at the Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich, where he is the Chief Conductor,” she beams. “We played in Israel together, we opened the Hollywood Bowl together, and next we’re going to Australia!”

When the pair take to the stage at the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall next month it won’t be to deliver one of the gargantuan Russian concertos for which Wang has become so well known, but another beast of the Romantic canon, Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 2. The change of tack is all part of the pianist’s drive to stay fresh and stimulated. “People definitely always love it when I play that big Russian repertoire, but I’ve played it so much that it’s not that interesting anymore, no matter how great the pieces are. So I really had to learn the Brahms,” she confides.

Over the next year Wang will continue diversifying her repertoire with planned performances of Mozart, Beethoven and even Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, although the music of the Baroque and early Classical masters, such as JS Bach and Haydn, remain conspicuously absent for now. Wang seems keenly aware of the challenges of tackling music from a such a different aesthetic orbit compared to the dark Russian works she is so well known for – “There’s no way you can play Mozart that’s the right way,” she sighs – but in typically defiant style she remains resolutely fearless and determined to continue reinventing herself.

A lot has changed for Yuja Wang in the 21 years since she last stepped onto an Australian stage, but given the powerful current of her indefatigable spirit its unsurprising that she returns Down Under, not as a child, but with the world at her feet. “People always have something to say,” she remarks confidently. “But I’m just being me. I don’t care what people think or say, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”
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Re: Yuja Wang Thread

Postby pianoman » Mon Oct 05, 2015 5:24 pm

Yuja's new release October 9, 2015. Ravel seems like an obvious choice for her, given her jazz leanings. I'm a fan of the left-hand concerto:

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Re: Yuja Wang Thread

Postby pianoman » Mon Sep 05, 2016 5:52 pm

A long profile of Yuja just appeared in the New Yorker. Not sure how this one came to be--the author is not a music specialist and decided to turn Yuja's wardrobe into a major theme. She relies on quotations from actual musicians for the musical analysis. I found the piece somewhat disappointing. Janet Malcolm attempts a neo-feminist maneuver where she turns an irrelevant and lascivious fascination with Yuja's "short dresses" (something that seems to come up in every piece about her) into a form of empowerment. Yuja's nakedness is part of the performance, Malcolm insists. I am certain that if Yuja were a white female pianist, she would not be objectified in the media in quite the same manner, with so little original musical insight given the length of the piece, and in such a high place as the New Yorker. Here are some excerpts:

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http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/ ... l_facebook
What is one to think of the clothes the twenty-nine-year-old pianist Yuja Wang wears when she performs—extremely short and tight dresses that ride up as she plays, so that she has to tug at them when she has a free hand, or clinging backless gowns that give an impression of near-nakedness (accompanied in all cases by four-inch-high stiletto heels)? In 2011, Mark Swed, the music critic of the L.A. Times, referring to the short and tight orange dress Yuja wore when she played Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl, wrote that “had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult.” Two years later, the New Criterion critic Jay Nordlinger characterized the “shorter-than-short red dress, barely covering her rear,” that Yuja wore for a Carnegie Hall recital as “stripper-wear.” Never has the relationship between what we see at a concert and what we hear come under such perplexing scrutiny. Is the seeing part a distraction (Glenn Gould thought it was) or is it—can it be—a heightening of the musical experience?

During the intermission of a recital at Carnegie Hall in May, Yuja changed from the relatively conventional long gold sequinned gown she had worn for the first half, two Brahms Ballades and Schumann’s “Kreisleriana,” into something more characteristically outré. For the second half, Beethoven’s extremely long and difficult Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat, known as the “Hammerklavier,” she wore a dress that was neither short nor long but both: a dark-blue-green number, also sequinned, with a long train on one side—the side not facing the audience—and nothing on the other, so that her right thigh and leg were completely exposed.

As she performed, the thigh, splayed by the weight of the torso and the action of the toe working the pedal, looked startlingly large, almost fat, though Yuja is a very slender woman. Her back was bare, thin straps crossing it. She looked like a dominatrix or a lion tamer’s assistant. She had come to tame the beast of a piece, this half-naked woman in sadistic high heels. Take that, and that, Beethoven!

Neither Tommasini nor Wosner mentioned Yuja’s dress, but I wondered about its impact on their experience. I know that what I saw was intertwined with what I heard. Looking at her in that remarkable getup was part of the musical experience. But what part?

My visit to Yuja’s apartment had taken place after this conversation. It was around four on a hot August afternoon, and Yuja was dressed in denim shorts, very short ones, and a tank top. We had tickets to a five-o’clock concert of advanced contemporary music at Alice Tully Hall, and Yuja was debating whether to change for it. She rummaged through the suitcase on the floor and extracted two garments—strapless black-and-white minidresses made of a stretch fabric, called bandage dresses by their French designer, Hervé Léger, because that’s how they fit, and characterized by Yuja as “modern and edgy” as well as practical, because they don’t have to be ironed and lie nice and flat in a suitcase—and asked my opinion. Should she wear one of them or stay in the shorts? I asked what the issue was—was she interested in comfort or in how she looked? She stared at me as if I were crazy. What weird world was I living in where comfort could even be thought of? She wiggled into one of the bandage dresses, added her high heels, and we walked the three blocks to Lincoln Center at a brisk clip.

Yuja was waiting in the small room upstairs where soloists change clothes and receive visitors. She showed me a closet where the three dresses, designed by Roberto Cavalli, she would wear at the concerts were hanging. I took an immediate dislike to one of the garments—a short pink dress with black swirling lines on its gathered skirt and bodice. It was neither ultra-short and tight nor long and clinging. It was a kind of girlish summer dress. I did not like the idea of Yuja wearing it onstage. The two other dresses were a glamorous dark-blue long gown and a short, also concert-worthy dress.

Yuja must have liked reading this. She had once talked about how funny Mozart is: “Mozart is like a party animal. I find I play him better when I am hung over or drunk.” At the same time, she saw Mozart’s music as “noble, tragic, like a great Greek play. The human emotion is there but with a lot of godliness in it.” On the second night, my heart sank when Yuja walked onstage in the pink dress. Was it my imagination or was her playing less inspired than it had been the night before?

Meeting Yuja in the Sky Lounge a few weeks later on a rainy day, I told her of this impression, and she did not contradict it. “Because of that dress, the little pink one, because it’s so different from everything I’ve ever worn, I didn’t really feel myself, and maybe that came through. I liked the pink dress because it was different. Sometimes, the difference might become the style of my next season. It could be what’s going to come. Or it could be something to discard. You don’t know until you try it.” She added, “They wanted to put in social media that I was dressed by the designer Roberto Cavalli.”

When Yuja played the “Jeunehomme” in the girlish pink dress, that contrast was absent. The sense of a body set in urgent motion by musical imperatives requires that the body not be distractingly clothed. With her usually bared thighs, chest, and back demurely covered by the black-splotched pink fabric, this sense was lost.

The “nude dress” was a long gown (in recent years, long gowns have been admitted into Yuja’s concert-clothes closet, but they have to be slinky) made of body-stocking fabric with sparkling encrustations at bosom and stomach and a long swishing skirt. Yuja wore this fabulously gorgeous costume at the third concert—which had the electricity of the first one—and felt comfortable and happy in its defiant sexiness and her feeling of nakedness.

We were on a below-street-level floor, filled with pianos. The photographer, Pari Dukovic, and his three assistants were placing lights and screens around one of them. They had been there since eight-thirty in the morning (catering and hair and makeup had followed at eleven-thirty). Several of Yuja’s concert dresses were strewn around an alcove serving as a dressing room, among them the blue-green dominatrix gown she had worn to play the “Hammerklavier.” This was the dress finally chosen for the portrait. The hair-and-makeup man, with whom Yuja had established laughing rapport, revised something in her hairdo at her request. “My cheeks are too fat,” she said as she looked in the mirror. She ate a few forkfuls from a plate of salad that her friend Carlos Avila, a pianist who teaches at Juilliard, brought her from the catering table. Then she slipped into the blue-green dress and stepped into stiletto heels, and the photo shoot began. Yuja went to the designated piano, and Dukovic—a handsome young man, with a warm and charming manner—began circling around it, snapping pictures with a handheld camera, as she played bits and pieces of repertoire. At first, she played tentatively and quietly, starting a piece and trailing off—and then she worked her way into a horrible and wonderful pastiche of Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Gershwin, Horowitz, Tchaikovsky, all mushed together, playing louder and louder and faster and faster, banging with mischievous demonic force, as Dukovic continued his circling and snapping, like the photographer in the famous orgasmic scene in “Blowup.” Yuja ended with a parodic crescendo as Dukovic shouted, “I love you!” and she burst into laughter.

The arresting photograph that was chosen out of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of pictures Dukovic took of Yuja at the piano and, later, in the first-floor showroom, posed full figure in front of a piano with its lid up, represents her as no concertgoer has ever seen her. The wild disorder of the hair has never been seen in a concert hall. (Yuja’s hair tends to stay in place throughout the most rousing of her performances.) And the foreshortened, oversized hand is an obvious deviation from the consensus we call reality. Will Yuja cringe when she looks at the photograph? Or will she see it as expressive of her impudent, defiant nature and find in it, almost hear in it, an echo of her incomparable musicality?
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Re: Yuja Wang Thread

Postby pianoman » Thu Feb 23, 2017 4:35 pm

A musical comedy duo by the name of Igudesman & Joo (Hyung-ki) recently incorporated Yuja into a skit:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PQNgCsLiLU
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And here is a four-year-old, 24 minute documentary about Yuja preparing for a solo recital at Carnegie Hall. It begins in her New York studio apartment. The piano is about four feet from her bed. There is also footage of her at her teacher Gary Graffman's apartment. Her manager helps her pick out a dress. Interview in a cab. Ends with excerpts from the concert:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=238oMAH3V00
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Re: Yuja Wang Thread

Postby pianoman » Tue Apr 03, 2018 7:06 pm

Another "Yuja is so petite and her dresses are so short" piece here, although a notch better than the New Yorker piece a few years ago. This time from the British press. There is some actual musical criticism in this one:

http://www.rhinegold.co.uk/internationa ... nking-big/
Stephen Wigler
Thinking Big: Yuja Wang
4:15, 17th March 2017

She may be tiny in stature and on stage her slinky dresses are clearly meant to thrill. Once at the keyboard, however, the 30-year-old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang cuts a seriously commanding figure who tackles the most challenging repertoire with fearless self-confidence and profound artistry. Stephen Wigler meets a sensational young player who seems to defy expectations at every turn

I HAVE MET MANY CELEBRITY musicians in my life, but this time as I wait for my famous guest in a restaurant on New York’s Upper West Side, I’m more nervous than usual. My apprehension is fuelled by several factors: my interviewee is very attractive – almost intimidatingly so; she achieved celebrity early, when she was still in her teens; she is extraordinarily gifted, scaling the Everests of the concerto repertoire with what seems like insouciant disregard for their difficulty, whether it be Rachmaninov, Prokofiev or Bartók.

Wang’s appearance as she emerges onto the stage creates almost as much of a stir as her electrifying performances. In a New Yorker magazine profile last September, Janet Malcolm described the pianist’s Hammerklavier Sonata thus: ‘Her back was bare… She looked like a dominatrix or a lion tamer’s assistant. She had come to tame the beast of a piece, this half-naked woman in sadistic high heels. Take that, and that, Beethoven!’

Having seen her perform, I had decided she must be arrogant, so utterly assured and formidable was her presence on stage. Indeed, one of her contemporaries, who has known her since their childhood in Beijing, describes her ‘as the most confident person I’ve ever known’. All in all, I expected to be in the company of a predatory half-leopardess, as played by the young Nastassja Kinski in Cat People.

Imagine my surprise when I notice a waitress pointing at my table for the benefit of a young woman who has just come in from the rain. She is beautiful, but not in any way that could be called dangerous. Dressed modestly in sneakers, loose-fitting and comfortable-looking blue jeans and a sweatshirt, there is none of the forbidding glamour she exudes on stage. She approaches me, wearing a genuinely warm, sweet smile.

‘Hi, I’m Yuja,’ she says as she shakes my hand and sits down to order a hamburger and fries. First impressions: I knew she wasn’t a tall person, but I wasn’t expecting her to be as tiny as Alicia de Larrocha or Maria João Pires – and even more slender than both.

There’s nothing small about her playing, of course. In the passages that call upon the piano to create the most thunderous sonorities – in Liszt, Prokofiev or Rachmaninov – Wang effortlessly matches the climaxes achieved by pianists such as Denis Matsuev, Horacio Gutierrez or Alexander Toradze, all more than twice her size.

She interrupts my thoughts. ‘What were you reading when I walked in?’ she asks, as she points at my notebook. ‘Oh,’ I say, caught off guard. ‘Those are just some of the questions I’ve been mulling over. People want to know how you choose your, er, concert attire.’ Her good-natured laughter rings out over the hubbub of the other diners: ‘I could tell you that I really like the designers whose clothes I choose. And that since I’m not yet 30 [she turned 30 on 10 February], I still look fine in the sort of stuff I wear. But the truth is that I’m very self-conscious about how tiny I am. When I dress the way I do,’ she says, as she bites into her burger, ‘I don’t feel tiny and I don’t look tiny – not even when I’m seated in front of a nine-foot Steinway.’

She eats with gusto, finishing off the burger by licking the melted cheese from her fingers: ‘God, I can’t believe what a slob I can be!’ she laughs.



LATER THAT DAY, I HAVE dinner with the pianist Horacio Gutierrez. Gutierrez particularly admires the way Yuja performs one of his specialities, Prokofiev’s Concerto No 2. He is surprised to learn how small she is: ‘On stage, she doesn’t seem small,’ he says. ‘For one thing, she looks like she has large hands; and for another, there are her muscles! She has the thighs, the shoulders and the arms of an athlete. She certainly does not play small.’

Actually, Wang’s hand-size, while not enormous, is quite large – about the same as that of Martha Argerich, Mitsuko Uchida and Hélène Grimaud. What’s more, she has the flexibility for the wide stretches in Rachmaninov and the hailstorms of double octaves in Liszt. ‘No one since Martha has played the big repertoire in so big a way,’ Gutierrez observes. He is not the first person to note Wang’s resemblance to Argerich. She possesses much the same derring-do virtuosity, explosive temperament and charisma that make Argerich’s audiences stand up, stamp their feet and cheer.

It was, in fact, as a replacement for Argerich that Wang had her first big break. In March 2007, Argerich had been scheduled to give four subscription concerts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, appearing with guest conductor Charles Dutoit (Argerich’s former husband) in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1. Wang recalls how Argerich casually directed the spotlight in her direction: ‘With Martha it was like, “I’m tired… Do you want to play with the Boston Symphony for me?” I replied, Of course – as if you even need to ask the question!’

At the time, the 19-year-old pianist did not know the Tchaikovsky, but she’s an extraordinarily fast learner. I was in the audience at Symphony Hall on the first evening of the series, and the audience’s initial disgruntlement dissipated with the startling impact of her opening chords; by the concerto’s final notes, they had become a cheering mob, giving her a standing ovation. Her interpretation had a fearlessness and abundance of temperament that out-Argeriched Argerich herself.



BORN INTO AN ARTISTIC family in Beijing (her mother was a dancer and her father a percussionist), Yuja Wang, began playing the piano aged six. A year later, her extraordinary gifts being apparent, she was enrolled to study at the Beijing Music Conservatoire, and by 15, her ‘intelligence and good taste’ as a pianist won her a prestigious place at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

She was still a student at the Curtis when she was asked by Argerich to come to the rescue in Boston, thus becoming an overnight sensation. However, many in the classical piano world already knew who Yuja Wang was. I had first heard of her five years earlier, when the conductor David Zinman gave me a broadcast recording of the 15-year-old playing Beethoven’s Concerto No 4 in G major with his Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. I was astonished by its depth and musical sophistication. I was not surprised to discover that the teenaged pianist already had management. Shortly after, a friend who worked for what was then Yuja’s concert agency, Opus 3 Artists, gave me a CD of a recital programme. It contained, among other things, performances of Chopin’s Sonata in B-flat minor and Stravinsky’s Petrushka that were as stunning as the performances Evgeny Kissin had given when he was Yuja’s age.

Even before standing in for Argerich in Boston, there had been other, less publicised, substitutions for pre-eminent pianists, including Evgeny Kissin, Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia. It was only a question of time before Wang stood shoulder-to-shoulder with these greats. Soon after Boston came a recording contract from Deutsche Grammophon; and in the 10 years since, she has become one of the tiny handful of pianists whose recordings people actually buy and who can reliably be depended upon to sell out large concert halls.

There are several ways in which Yuja Wang clearly surpasses Argerich. The most important of these lies in her curiosity about the full extent of the piano repertoire and her fearless approach to programming. Argerich has been playing essentially the same repertoire for the last 50 years: only one Bartók concerto – No 3, the easiest; one Prokofiev concerto, the popular No 3; one Prokofiev sonata, the relatively short No 7; the first three of the five Beethoven concertos and only two or three of his piano sonatas; and very little contemporary music.

Wang, by contrast, seems to have an appetite for everything. She plays Brahms’ Concerto No 1, but also the composer’s even longer and more challenging second concerto. With the possible exceptions of Vladimir Ashkenazy and Yefim Bronfman in their younger days, she may be the only pianist I know who programmes in the same season what are considered the three titans of the piano concerto form: Bartók 2, Prokofiev 2 and Rachmaninov 3. She plays the two longest and most difficult Prokofiev Sonatas, Nos 6 and 8, as well as the solo version of Ravel’s La Valse (Argerich plays only the two-piano version); she programmes both books of Brahms’ Paganini Variations (Argerich has never programmed even one). One could go on.



IT’S CLEAR THAT THE CHIEF reasons for the breadth and depth of Wang’s repertoire are her curiosity and the remarkable memory that permits her to satisfy that curiosity. Yet she’s also not afraid to walk on stage with music. She thinks it is ridiculous to take time off, as some very well-known pianists have done – in extreme cases for sabbaticals lasting several months – to learn difficult repertoire. Search online for ‘Yuja Wang, Bartók Concerto No 2’ and you will find several videos of her playing this monstrously difficult piece with the music in front of her. The performances are magnificent and she scarcely ever looks at the music, so why does she use it? ‘At one of those performances [of the Bartók Second], one of the members of the orchestra asked me about it,’ she says. ‘I replied, “Wait a minute! Are you not using music?”’

‘When you reach a certain age, no one minds if you play with music in front of you,’ she continues. ‘I’m sure nobody raised objections back in the days when Richter and Curzon began doing it or today when Menahem Pressler does it. Everybody knows that they know everything about the music they play. But audiences shouldn’t mind no matter what age the player is – not even if they’re young!’

Wang believes people tend to have a ‘misconception about the use of music’ – namely that if a performer uses music they are not prepared. ‘That’s simply not true,’ she asserts. ‘When I use music, it’s not because it’s a security blanket. Instead of worrying about forgetting, you can focus on communicating. What’s on the page – even if you’re not reading it – begins to issue forth from you with a force that’s otherwise hard to imagine.’

‘Even the greatest pianists have problems with the fear of forgetting,’ she says. She mentions one of the greatest living interpreters of Beethoven and Schubert, whose career began to hit roadblocks as he approached middle age about 30 years ago. Now, in his 70s – because he’s no longer embarrassed to use music on stage – his appearances have become more frequent and his reputation has begun to resume much of its former lustre.

‘He was always able to play wonderfully,’ she says, ‘but his nervousness on stage sometimes made it hard for him. Since that kind of fear is something that – to some degree – afflicts all of us, I don’t want to have to worry about it.’



‘ANY OTHER QUESTIONS ON your notebook?’ Yuja asks when our post-lunch cappuccinos arrive. ‘Well,’ I say, ‘it would be good to know why, when you are still so young, you seem to want to take on the most monumental challenges in the repertoire – pieces for which most pianists wait until they are fully mature? Why, for example, did you decide to programme Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata before doing any of the other Beethoven sonatas? And why are you planning to introduce Bach’s Goldberg Variations before performing any of his smaller works?’

Yuja thinks for a moment: ‘I played the Hammerklavier when I turned 29 and I will be playing the Goldbergs when I am 30,’ she says, with a smile. ‘I guess you could say that I’m playing pieces that have a numerical significance for whatever age I am.’ She laughs at her own joke: the Hammerklavier is Beethoven’s 29th piano sonata and the Goldberg is made up of 30 variations upon its opening aria.

Wang turns serious: ‘I think people often have pretty set ideas about what age you must be in order to play something,’ she says. ‘But when there are rules, I just go ahead and break them. And anyway, what’s the big deal about works like the Hammerklavier or the Goldbergs?’

She is correct, of course: the younger you are as a pianist, the easier it is to learn the most complex works, as Gary Graffman, Yuja’s teacher at the Curtis, has explained: ‘When you’re young, you’re usually too dumb to know how difficult some things are – you just go ahead and learn them. I sometimes kick myself because I put things off until I felt ready for them. When the time came, I was too scared to attempt them.’

‘The way most people learn is to start with something simpler and build toward things that are more complex,’ says Yuja. ‘But ever since I was a child, I’ve never done things that way. I always preferred to start with the biggest, most difficult work.

When I began to programme Liszt, I started with the Sonata in B minor. I’ve played a lot of Beethoven throughout my life, including four of the five concertos when I was still in my teens – leaving No 1 for later. However, I had never performed any of the sonatas in my recital programmes and at CD signings, people used to ask me “Why don’t you play any Beethoven?” I heard this for about three or four years, and then I thought – You want to hear a Beethoven sonata? Well I’m gonna give you the one that lasts 50 minutes!’

In fact, Yuja’s performance of the Hammerklavier lasts slightly more than 40 minutes, significantly quicker than well-known versions by, for example, Emil Gilels, Alfred Brendel and Daniel Barenboim. But while Yuja took only a few months to learn this gigantic piece, she studied and thought about it intensely. She agrees with András Schiff that it is too often performed in an overly ponderous and monumental manner. Beethoven’s metronome markings for the first two movements are controversially fast, but it is clear that they are meant to tell the interpreter the tempo must be fast. ‘If you try to make it beautiful, then you miss the energy and urgency that are the point of the piece,’ Yuja says. ‘When I was learning it, I made myself listen to other late Beethoven pieces all the time – the Große Fugue and the other late string quartets, the Missa Solemnis and the Diabelli Variations. Are these the first things I want to hear when I wake up? No. But that energy and strength in the music is what you need to tap into if you play the Hammerklavier.’

Wang’s view of the piece may change in some details as she grows older. Nevertheless, it is already a great interpretation – easily the equal of the outstanding performances given by Ashkenazy, Pollini and Barenboim at her age. The first movement flows effortlessly and energetically at high velocity, but does not ignore intricate details, inner voices and harmonic colourings, all the while making its classical structure remarkably lucid. The Scherzo skips along mischievously. The slow movement is ethereal and thoughtful, rather than a self-consciously profound expression of immeasurable woe. The final fugue illuminates the complexities of Beethoven’s contrapuntal art with X-ray clarity.

For a pianist still a year shy of 30, Wang’s performance of the Hammerklavier is a magnificent achievement. If it is not as probing or profound as it could be, she has another 40 or 50 years to work on it. ‘I am years from really understanding it,’ Yuja admits. ‘The more I play it, the more complexities I discover in it. There are layers beneath layers in that piece, and there are so many of them. They’ll only reveal themselves over the years,’ she says, adding with a laugh: ‘Whether by playing it or by not playing it, I don’t know!’
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