Yuja Wang: A star is born 

When Yuja Wang returns to Davies Hall today to play the Beet-hoven Piano Concerto No. 2 with the San Francisco Symphony, will she still be the teenage piano prodigy acclaimed on three continents?

"No," she says, laughing, but perhaps with a tinge of regret in her voice.

On the phone from Philadelphia, where she attends the Curtis Institute, Wang doesn’t play coy about age, the forbidden subject in the world of stars.

She admits having turned 20 on Feb. 10 — making her a teen no more, but a prodigy she remains. After next February, she could also pick up a gig in a bar. But for now, when it comes to alcohol, she is still a minor.

Born in Beijing, Wang started playing at age 6 and went on to study at the Central Conservatory of Music while performing in China and abroad. She made a habit of winning competitions and prizes, first in China, then — moving to Canada at 14 — in North America and Europe.

Last year, she won the prestigious Gilmore Young Artist Award, and she will be featured in a San Francisco Performances Young Masters Series recital Feb. 10, 2008, at the San Francisco Conservatory Concert Hall.

Since the time she landed at Curtis almost five years ago, her teacher has been Gary Graffman, former president of Curtis and one of the most respected pianists and teachers anywhere.

Besides making her debut with some of the top orchestras here and abroad, Wang also has lived a kind of "star is born" life, having done exceedingly well substituting for major artists. Just last month, she was called in by the Boston Symphony to replace none other than the great, if cancellation-prone, Martha Argerich. Before that, she was called to substitute for Radu Lupu in Ottawa.

She has been engaged as soloist in China, Switzerland, Poland, Japan, Holland and elsewhere — and so far, no one has ever needed to substitute for her.

The Philadelphia Inquirer review after the Boston substitution hailed her performance: "Wang is a seasoned chamber musician whose best moments come from small jewel-like phrases that can be particularly arresting in majestic works of Beethoven where one doesn’t always expect them. In fact, the big final flourish of Tchaikovsky’s first movement

wasn’t pounded out to the gallery — as per usual — but integrated into the overall sonority."

Wang’s previous San Francisco Symphony appearances included last September’s "All San Francisco" concert with Michael Tilson Thomas, playing three movements from the Ravel Piano Concerto in G major, and before that, at last year’s Chinese New Year concert, with Grieg’s A minor Piano Concerto, conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Yuja Wang with the San Francisco Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday

Tickets: $25 to $114

Contact: (415) 864-6000 or www.sfsymphony.org

Note: The concert repeats at 8 p.m. Thursday at Flint Center in Cupertino

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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