The dynamic young virtuoso, Yuja Wang, brings her pianistic brilliance back to the stage of Campbell Hall for a UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures recital at 8 p.m. Monday. Her program will include Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 3 in a-minor, Opus 28; three pieces by Frédéric Chopin — Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Opus 58; Nocturne No. 1 in C Minor, Opus 48; Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Opus 47 — Nikolai Kapustin's Variations for Piano, Opus 41 (1984); and Three Movements from Igor Stravinsky's ballet, Petrushka.
All in all, this is a fairly traditional program for a young virtuoso; Russo-centered and 100 percent Slavic. The one unfamiliar name is that of Nikolai Girshevich Kapustin, a Russian-trained Ukrainian composer and pianist. Although he completed his formal studies at the Moscow Conservatory, his first musical work was as a jazz pianist, arranger and composer, and his compositions continue to reflect the jazz-classical dualism, using jazz idioms in formal classical structures. In fact, he denies that he was ever a real jazz musician.
"I was never a jazz musician," he said. "I never tried to be a real jazz pianist, but I had to do it because of the composing. I’m not interested in improvisation — and what is a jazz musician without improvisation? All my improvisation is written, of course, and they became much better; it improved them."
Most of his compositions involve the piano, including 20 piano sonatas, six piano concertos, sets of piano variations, études, concert studies and so forth. As his reputation continues to grow, he has acquired champions among the younger pianists, including Wang, obviously.
Master of the orchestra — and, like his own master, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, of orchestration — Stravinsky wrote very little for solo instruments or small ensembles that has caught the public's fancy. Consequently, virtuoso instrumentalists wanting to play Stravinsky have sought out transcriptions and reductions of the popular orchestral works, preferably those made by Stravinsky himself. Gregor Piatigorsky, for instance, had been urging Stravinsky for years to write a cello piece, but nothing came of it.
"Finally," said the master cellist, "impatient of waiting longer, I, myself, transcribed Pulcinella for my instrument."
Some months later, having toured successfully with his transcription, Piatigorsky ran into the composer on a Paris street.
"Grigoriy Pavlovich," Stravinsky said, "considering I never wrote anything for the cello, I am enormously interested to hear that you play a piece by Stravinsky everywhere."
Once he had played the piece for the composer, Piatigorsky began meeting Stravinsky at the Pleyel Studio in Paris and together they came up with an arrangement that satisfied them both.
Yuja Wang didn't have to take matters into her own capable hands. The Trois mouvements de Petrouchka is a piano arrangement of the ballet made in 1921 by Stravinsky himself, for the pianist Artur Rubinstein. Stravinsky freely admitted that the arrangement was beyond him: his left hand wasn't up to it.
The rather petite Wang has a powerful and extroverted public persona. She comes on stage glowing, shooting sparks in every direction, filling every hall she enters. There is a considerable visual dimension to her performances; in addition to her spectacular looks, she has a kinetic style of playing. Yet, if that were all there was to her, her extra-musical display would hold our attention for, at most, a single season. Once she starts playing, all we can think about is the music.
Admission to this concert is $30-$45 for the general public and $15 for UCSB students with current ID (assume limited availability). Click here for tickets or information, or call the A&L box office at 805.893.3535.