One Hundred Pages of Music, No Problem

Pianist Yuja Wang, 20, performs Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1. Since leaving her home in Beijing, China, six years ago, she has played all over the world. Coming up: a concert at the Kennedy Center Jan. 26.Video Courtesy: Yuja Wang
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

When Yuja Wang was 14 she moved from Beijing, China, halfway around the world to Canada. Her parents stayed in China.

Such is the life of a piano prodigy.

Wang's amazing musical talent had been known for a long time. She played the piano better than most adults could. Her parents wanted her to receive advanced training, so they sent her to Canada and, a year later, the United States to study at a special music school called a conservatory.

"People always ask me, 'Did you know you'd be a pianist?' I didn't really think about it. I just thought it was fun," says Wang, now 20.

She started playing piano at age 6. Music was a way of life in her home -- her mother was a dancer; her father plays drums (and accompanies her when she is in China).

Wang performs around the world. She had a concert in St. Petersburg, Russia, two days ago, and she will be at the Kennedy Center in Washington on Jan. 26.

From memory, she can play 20 piano concertos, long pieces of music for orchestra and piano. "You [have to] remember not only the part you're playing, but also the orchestra," she says. It takes her about two weeks, practicing two to three hours a day, to memorize 100 pages of music. "Once I play them, [they are] in my hands."

Performing doesn't make Wang nervous, not even when, as happened last March with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, she is asked to fill in at the last minute. (It helped that she already knew the piece she was asked to play.)

"I don't get it when people get nervous," she says. She has her mother to thank, in part. Before Wang's first piano recital, her mom told her to pretend that she was practicing. That first concert "was very positive," she says. "The audience was a cloud of darkness."

When not performing or traveling, Wang likes to shop, watch movies and read. "I do read a lot because I am on the road alone a lot," she says. One of her favorite books is "The Lord of the Rings."

Before a concert with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra recently, Wang met with several young musicians.

Ellie Clark, a 10-year-old violinist, thought Wang's life sounded "really cool." Max Burzinski, a 10-year-old who plays piano, saxophone and guitar, thought it sounded crazy because "you're never in one place for very long."

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