Review: LA Phil — Yuja Wang plays the hell out of the piano.


John Adam’s “Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?” his third piano concerto, was composed for Yuja Wang and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Led by maestro Gustav Dudamel it was a star studded evening  — Adams, Dudamel, Wang, Mahler and oh yes, Frank Gehry was acknowledged in the audience.

The concerto is in one continuous movement, about thirty minutes long and the three seamlessly connected sections follow the traditional fast-slow-fast format, with the piano soloist active throughout. The piano and orchestra begin in the bass register, with a gospel-like riff (marked “Gritty, Funky”). Adam says that he was inspired by Yuja Wang’s lyrical playing. The original music was played with vigor by the orchestra. Some jazz fusion and sounds of “honky-tonk” piano in his twenty-five minute piece.

Wang, known for her charismatic stage presence, slinky dresses and stiletto heels fervently belted out the piece on the piano.

The Beijing-born pianist comes from a musical family. Wang has a remarkable memory with over twenty concertos in her repertoire. Wang said — as a little girl the piano made her happy and her parents never had to force her to practiceIn China, she studied with Yuan Ling and Guangren Zhou . Then in Canada, under the tutelage of the famous piano teacher, Gary Graffman she flourished. Her frequent collaborator the late Claudio Abbado was said to have trusted her musical intelligence during a performance giving her leeway. Tonight, all the pedagogical methods were in full force. Wang played like a Goddess and succeeded in her desire “to transport the audience to a place of beauty, outside their daily lives.”

After the Los Angeles performances Yuja and the LA Philharmonic will tour with the piece in Tokyo, New York, London, Edinburgh, Mexico City and elsewhere.

In the second part of the program, we saw Dudamel at his best conducting  Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Plenty of passion and impishness –I just love when he does the hand in pocket swagger.
According to program notes by John Mangum, Mahler was the director of the Court Opera in Vienna by the time his first symphony took final form. The years in between having taken him to Prague, Leipzig, Budapest (where the First Symphony premiered in its original, five-movement version in 1889). First and foremost, Mahler’s activities as a composer of songs were inextricably intertwined with his work as a symphonist. In this casethemes from his Songs of a Wayfarer, which he started in 1893, play a central role in the First Symphony’s opening and third movements.
The four-movement Symphony opens with sonata-allegro, a spirited earthy dance movement, the funeral procession, and a finale whose storm dissolves in light.

This week in Los Angeles seems to be Mahler Week, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra played Mahler and a few days prior Dudamel conducted Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 and it was just as glorious as tonight’s concertLos Angelinos are blessed with great music venues. For more information on upcoming concerts visit Los Angeles Philharmonic online.

This concert by Los Angeles Philharmonic was given on Thursday, March 7, 2019 at Disney Hall. Info:




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