Call her Yuja 

One of the most coveted and acclaimed pianists in the world, Yuja Wang prefers to be known as Yuja. Wang is such a common name.

The 23-year-old Chinese-born virtuoso, returning to what she calls her second home in San Francisco for a Herbst Theatre recital on Thursday, is the busiest of jet-setters.

In an interview two years ago, she spoke of having only three days a month to be home in her New York apartment. In an interview last week, she said the figure dropped to two.

She gives more than 100 concerts and recitals a year. Figuring travel, rehearsals with orchestras, and so on, it’s amazing she gets home at all.

What does she Tweet?

Here are two recent ones: “Resurrected and speechless after the powerful catharsis, MTT/sf symphony rocks!!!” and “eating junk food at hooters.”

The first was her reaction to the Michael Tilson Thomas-San Francisco Symphony performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony (“Resurrection”) in Carnegie Hall.

She will solo with MTT and the symphony in Davies Hall, in music by Poulenc, Stravinsky and Ravel from June 17-19. Next year, she will be a resident artist with the symphony.

As to the Hooters reference, unusual in classical-music circles, it had to do with a bet won by her boyfriend, a trumpet player with the New York Philharmonic.

Quirky and playful as she can be, Yuja is a remarkably serious and adventurous musician. While many other pianists rely on a staple of warhorse concertos, her repertory includes unusual, contemporary, devilishly difficult works.

At the Herbst recital, for example, a Schumann Etude and piano versions of Schubert songs are paired with two challenging Prokofiev pieces and a Scriabin work.

Kind and diplomatic, when asked about the frequent comparison with another young Chinese pianist superstar, the flashy, brilliant Lang Lang, Yuja calls him “an iconic figure ... like Elvis or whatever. He is very, very nice; there is nothing very similar about us.”

On top of those 100 concerts on tour annually, she adds to her frequent-flier mileage by visiting her parents and family in Beijing regularly.

“That’s the Chinese in me,” says the young woman who rented an apartment by herself at age 15, when attending Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and has lived on her own since.

Yuja Wang

Presented by San Francisco Performances

Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m., Thursday
Tickets: $32 to $49
Contact: (415) 398-6449,

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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