All-Beethoven Program Overture to Egmont Piano Concerto No. 1 Symphony No. 7
Yuja Wang became one of the youngest-ever musicians invited to study and perform at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute at age 17 in 2004.
Rising to fame playing passionate piano concertos from Russians like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev, Yuja Wang has more recently been devoting her time to Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven, music she believes helps her “have more growth and self-realization [and] understand myself more.” She made her first return to Ravinia last summer performing Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with the CSO.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s critics often dismissed his early works as continuations of Mozart’s and Haydn’s music, but his First Piano Concerto—his first published work featuring an orchestra—showed how quickly he was expanding musical horizons with more elaborate melodies and a greater dynamic range. Ironically, it would later be a critic’s mark of distinction to call Johannes Brahms’s First Symphony “Beethoven’s Tenth.”
In a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto last summer, Yuja Wang “brought light-hearted humor with crisp articulations and delicate, tickling trills,” said the San Francisco Classical Voice. “She didn’t hesitate to dive into a barely audible whisper at times, drawing everyone’s attention to small details. She embodied period elegance.”
Both in their 30s, Gustavo Dudamel and Yuja Wang both earned not only acclaim but also celebrity in their youth, with the central character of the TV series Mozart in the Jungle being inspired by Dudamel (who coached the actor for the role), and Wang being a cultural ambassador for Rolex and frequently wearing designer gowns created especially for her performances.
Yuja Wang has earned notoriety for her bold choices in concert gowns, but as the New Yorker observed, “in fact, Yuja’s penchant for the riskily short and clingy has less to do with allegiance to the dress code of her generation than with an awareness of her own ‘super-smallness.’ … She is keenly aware—as many soloists affect not to be—that she is being looked at as well as listened to.” The magazine echoed a conclusion by the New York Times: “The tiny dresses and spiky heels draw your focus to how stark the contrast [is] between her body and the forcefulness she achieves at her instrument. That contrast creates drama. It turns a recital into a performance.”
Gustavo Dudamel became known as a leader of Venezuela’s national music education programs (known as El Sistema), having learned from them himself, and now he embraces similar music programs around the world, including Ravinia’s own El Sistema–based orchestras (known as Sistema Ravinia).
Last year, Gustavo Dudamel spoke out against the Venezuelan government and its increasing tensions with its citizens and the specter of a new assembly being formed to rewrite that nation’s constitution and dissolve state institutions, such as El Sistema and the guarantee of music education. Subsequently, his international tours with the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra (comprising current students and graduates of El Sistema, respectively) were canceled by the government, and the SBSO was disbanded.
The last work Leonard Bernstein conducted was Ludwig van Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a performance “with sovereign authority … grave and noble, yet passionate as well” (New York Times).
Leonard Bernstein rarely recorded Ludwig van Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, observing in his later years, “How many Beethoven Sevenths can you listen to? There must be 500 recorded versions of that piece. [Toscanini and] Karajan never stopped! Yet another perfect, shiny Seventh made in the studio.” But for his recording debut on Deutsche Grammophon, Gustavo Dudamel opted for that frequent staple, and “the gamble certainly paid off” said the New York Times. “There is a refreshing sense of excitement. … [Dudamel’s] hushed, beautifully shaded Allegretto is particularly lovely, and the spirited Allegro comes off with unbridled brio.”
The Dudamel and Wang Consortium: Megan P. and John L. Anderson, Nancy Zadek, and Suzanne and Robert Wieseneck