Watch: Yuja Wang's Mozart Encore That Everyone Is Sharing

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 07:07 AM

Yuja Wang performing Mozart's Rondo alla Turca in a viral video. (Facebook video screengrab)

Wow. Just wow. Pianist Yuja Wang just took apart and rebuilt Mozart's Rondo alla Turca in a truly unusual way and so we had to share it with you. Wang played the captivating rendition, which mixes elements of jazz and even a dash of honky tonk, as her encore at a recent performance with the Berlin Philharmonic.

The video was posted on Facebook a week ago and has quickly become widely popular. It was shared among 300,000 Facebook users and viewed 20 million times in the course of a week. The video was removed from Facebook but is also available on YouTube. You can watch it here:

When classical performances like this break through on social media, all we can say is yes, yes, yes! A thousand times yes!

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Comments [11]

Peter J Blume from Westchester, NY

Thank you Baron; I think at this point I have sufficiently defended my opinion (& Yuja!) and will now respectfully just agree to disagree. I've enjoyed this discussion and civil debate with you and all the other contributors...and have also learned a lot--which for me is the real reason for and benefit to participating in these posts. And your subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) belittlement of Jazz at the end of your last posting actually gave me quite an amusing little chuckle! Thank you for that.

Happy Holidays to all!
-PjB

P.S. For the record, I actually like much of what Stokowski scored of Bach's works for larger orchestras...!!...but you probably already figured as much of me! Lol. Peace, my friend, & best wishes.

Dec. 06 2016 02:00 PM
The Baron from Long Island City, NY

Listener Peter J. Blume made some very interesting and thoughtful comments regarding the tempest in the classical music teapot caused by Yuja Wang, but I do not think that a comparison between Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca" and the melody to the Children's Song "Ah, vous dirai-je mamam" (a/k/a "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star") is quite apt.

The melody to the former was in the public domain well before some lawyer came up with the phrase (or the legal concept of) "Public Domain" and managed to get it codified. As a folk tune
both the words and music probably evolved over time. No one ever laid claim to authorship. It belonged to everyone (i.e., the folk).

Handel's Messiah was recently presented at Carnegie Hall with the "refreshed" orchestration of Sir Thomas Beecham. I passed. Not surprisingly most people still prefer the music that Handel wrote. (Thank goodness that Leopold Stokowski never got the idea, considering what he did to some of Bach's compositions.)

Legendary pianists like Vladimir Horowitz were not averse to occasionally adding a few ornamental notes of their own when playing certain pieces by Chopin and Mendelssohn. We can "forgive" Horowitz because there is musical precedent for the practice and but perhaps most of all because Horowitz was Horowitz. Would we be justified in making the same allowance in this instance because Wang is Wang? I think not, primarily because this is a War Horse of a different color. She and the other arrangers who are credited with this version of "Rondo alla Turca" obviously did a lot more than simply add a few ornamental notes.

The fact of the matter is that all of the works of the great composers ARE set in stone, their "stone" being the musical notes that they put down on paper. The same could be said of the words of Shakespeare or the sculptures of Rodin. If Yuja Wang wants to play Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca" a la Wang, I am sure that jazz clubs like "The Blue Note" would be more than happy to accommodate her (at a more modest fee). Also, her mode of dress in such a venue would probably be an asset rather than a novelty.

Dec. 06 2016 12:44 AM
Peter J Blume from Westchester, NY

To quote Benny 'the Jet’ Rodriguez in "The Sandlot" when talking about Wendy Peppercorn; “She knows EXACTLY what she’s doing!” On that note I agree with the Baron; there is little doubt that Yuja is intentionally using her sexy to help further sell her craft. As I said before, she’s got it, so why not use it? And who doesn’t want to look at a beautiful woman anyway? It’s like getting a 2 for 1 deal! But without offending anyone, if the way she dresses is really a distraction for you, then close your eyes & just listen. Yuja’s musicality has more-than-enough substance to stand on its own. And it’s obviously not a distraction for HER; maybe she even draws more self-confidence from her looks, how she dresses, & the attention she gets because of it. For now at least, I will certainly be keeping my eyes (as well as ears!) open.

More importantly, as for Mozart; please realize that I was not inferring that ANY of his pieces need any sort of ‘refreshing’, but I do believe that the master-composer himself—& probably most of the great masters, for that matter—would have been a bit more open minded than some people may think—with regards to how there music gets interpreted, as long as it was tastefully done—especially in this case some 200+ years later. I think he would even want to believe at least on on some level that it is because his music is dynamic—as opposed to being always set-in-stone museum masterpieces. Take for example Mozart’s own "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman”—the variations on the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”; those were really just his own improvisations on a popular French folk song of-the-day which he merely wrote down because he believed there was enough clever substance in them. Should whomever composed that folk song now be angry at Mozart for having ‘bastardized' HIS tune??! Furthermore, I cannot believe that Mozart or anyone else would be so close minded as to believe that all the creative possibilities were then exhausted after just 12 (variations)…?? And can you imagine what Mozart might have done/added if he had had access to the what is now the Jazz vocabulary of music principles, or even 20th century more atonal, dissonant Classical harmonies…??…I think he would have been ‘all over it’!!

That being said, I don’t think Rondo Alla Turca NEEDS ANY ’sprucing up’ (for the holidays!) either…but a relatively minor tangent-exploration for just an encore…?? Why not. I think what Yuja played was both interesting enough & tasteful enough to explore without reason for anyone—especially Mozart—to have been offended.

With just 1 slightly 'outside the box’ go-to encore & a few provocative dresses, I don’t think it’s significant enough to warrant Yuja having to eventually choose which way to pursue her career.

Peace.
-PjB

Dec. 04 2016 02:08 PM
The Baron from Long Island City

Like listener Nicole, I heard Ms. Wang play this arrangement (some might say "derangement") of Mozart's "Rondo alla Turka" at her Carnegie Hall concert in May. I also have seen her perform it in more than one YouTube video of her live appearances which leads me to believe that it is currently one of her "go to" encore pieces in what seems to be her never-ending world tour (100-120 performances a year).

Although there is no doubt that Yuja Wang is an exceptional pianist I get the impression that she is also an artist who has no rarified illusions about her chosen profession. To put it plainly, she is keenly aware that she is in Show Business. Of course this means that she has to put on a good Show - one that will make people want to pay money to see and hear her again so that she can stay in her very lucrative Business at the same high level.

One principle that some people in Show Biz follow is that it helps to have a hook that "keeps 'em wanting more." To this end, it seems unlikely that the attire Ms. Wang chooses to wear while performing is simply the personal preference of a young woman who happens to be very fashion conscious, especially when a "costume" change is a standard part of her act, post intermission. Ditto for her choice of a jazzed-up version of a popular Mozart piece (that certainly needs no "refreshing") as an encore piece. In my opinion both of these are shrewdly calculated decisions.

As Ms. Wang gets older and matures she may find the need to choose between two valid directions that her career could take - either the path followed by Victor Borge and Liberace (two very fine performers, in their own way) or that followed by Clara Schumann, Mitsuko Uchido and many others, who achieved great things without employing any hooks, simply by virtue of their musical genius and their nobleness of character.

Dec. 03 2016 07:33 PM
Peter J Blume from Westchester

This was for her encore, right? It's not like the Mozart piece was on the set-program & thus was an expectation of what the ticket-purchasers based their decision to attend the performance on. Why can't she stretch a little on HER OWN encore? Granted, I don't believe that it was truly improvised (earlier this month there was an article posted on this WQXR website about Art Tatum's amazing ability to improvise over Classical pieces; those were truly improvised!), but it wasn't distasteful, either. I don't think for a moment that Mozart would be rolling over in his grave over this...that is, unless he'd been buried face down & was rolling over just to better hear what all she was doing with his piece! (I know, BLASPHEMY!) I think that sometimes our "holy museum pieces" are more 'set in stone' by the listeners, not necessarily by the composers.

As for the dress, Yuja is ridiculously smoking hot; she always looks incredibly stunning in the often provocative dresses/evening gowns she is famous for wearing at her performances. She is a young beautiful woman who is also very talented--or--she is a very talented pianist who is also a young beautiful woman. God willing, she will mature gracefully--& then the criticism MAY be more warranted if she continues to dress this way. For now though--she's got it, so why not?...But then again, I AM a guy...!!

Cheers,
-peterjblume.com

Dec. 01 2016 11:34 AM
Ellen from West Chester, PA

The above comments were so divided, I had to go to Youtube to find the performance, as that video is currently disabled on the website. What little I know of Mozart, I have the distinct feeling he would have loved what she does with his Turkish March.

I have to agree that the dress is not appropriate and a distraction as well.

Nov. 30 2016 12:49 PM
Scott from Long Island

She also did it as an encore when she played the Ravel with the LSO at Geffen in October. The Great Performers calendar says it's Fazil Say's arrangement.

Nov. 30 2016 12:19 AM
Melanie from NYC

Good grief, Nicole! Who are you? Scrooge Mac Duck? And why do people presume to know what Mozart would or would not have liked?

Nov. 29 2016 11:03 PM
Tony from Cambridge, Ontario

Obviously, Ms. Wang is a skillful pianist. However, her jazz embelishment did nothing to enhance an already beautiful Rondo by Mozart, who is likely tossing in his unmarked grave. Sometimes less is more.

Nov. 29 2016 08:12 PM
Nicole from New York, NY

I am not so sure Mozart would have loved this. I heard her play it as an encore at her solo performance at Carnegie Hall this past May. While she gave a remarkable, energetic concert, including a moving performance of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata, I agree with Anthony Tommassini's description in his NY Times review as "a tasteless, jazzy arrangement of Mozart’s “Turkish” Rondo". I found the encore to be as tacky as the dress she is wearing in the photo above. I also heard her give an excellent performance in Messaien's Turangalila symphony at David Geffen Hall. She is clearly gifted but is not at all clear to me why she would ruin an otherwise excellent performance with this awful drivel, however skillfully she executed it. If she wants to play a real jazz piece, I would listen, but I could not stand to hear this number which sounds to me, at best, like a comic sketch, again.

Nov. 29 2016 02:33 PM
Jean Kuhn from New Jersey

I am certain Mozart himself would have loved this. :-)

Nov. 29 2016 01:34 PM

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