When Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, works with precocious young musicians, they generally show up with an entourage of parents, teachers, coaches and publicists. But not Yuja Wang. “What was so different about her, she simply appeared,” the conductor says of the first time he met and started working with the world renowned pianist, who was then just 17. “She said, ‘Hi. I’m here! What do we do?’”
The resulting years have led to a fruitful artistic collaboration between Tilson Thomas and Wang. The conductor, who’s long been a mentor as well as close friend of Wang’s, sees his role as a supportive one. “It's my responsibility to make the soloist comfortable because that will create a situation in which they can make the most brilliant and delightful contribution for the listeners,” Tilson Thomas says.
Besides being a one of the most in-demand soloists working in classical music today, Wang is a social media sensation who manages to appeal to young people who might not otherwise be drawn to classical music. She is also vivacious, attractive and known for her vibrant onstage outfits – including a dress decorated entirely with silver sequins which Wang says makes her look like a mermaid. She likes to wear it when playing Beethoven.
Once the pianist takes her seat at the keyboard though, it’s all about the music. As Wang puts it: “The music speaks, everything else goes away. The music itself speaks to the soul, it connects humanity.”