It’s Getting Hot in Here, But Please Don’t Mention It—We’re Classical Music Fans
On Tuesday I heard the best concert that’s graced my ears this year, and it wasn’t even in the DMV. Summer travel brought me to Santa Fe, and as part of that town’s chamber music festival, Yuja Wang gave a dazzling hourlong lunchtime recital of works by Robert Schumann (in his 200th birthday year), Alexander Scriabin, and Sergei Prokofiev.
In Schumann’s Op. 111 “Drei Fantasiestücke” (Three Fantasy Pieces), she brought a lightness to Schumann’s thickets of notes that one rarely hears, thanks to fingers that seem able to supply the most difficult runs and combos without any trouble. (I heard this capacity firsthand in music not nearly as fetching when she premiered Jennifer Higdon’s piano concerto with the NSO last fall.) Wang made all those note-thickets sway beguilingly with the melody, as in a breeze, where other pianists seem audibly to be picking their way through the tangles, trying not to tear their clothes on brambles (to abuse a metaphor). Wang assembled a selection of three preludes, an étude, and a poème from various Scriabin opuses, effectively contrasting light and dark colors and quiet and stormy moods while teasing out the shapes of Scriabin’s sometimes-elusive pieces.
And her performance of Prokofiev’s sixth sonata was the stuff of fantasies, aflame throughout with color and rhythm yet keenly controlled. She created an incredible variety of steely tones in the stentorian first movement, larked effortlessly in the second with just that hint of sarcasm that we all love in Prokofiev, ruminated in magnetic quiet tones during the slow movement, and played a blistering finale that launched me out of my seat to cheer. Various social engagements have prevented me from attending Wang’s DMV recitals in the past; the Prokofiev, in particular, convinced me that it’s worthwhile to dis people in order to hear Wang play. (And to think I could have heard it before, at Sixth and I!)
The Yuja Wang concert experience is not all about hearing her play, though; in addition to being a wonderful pianist, she is hot. On Tuesday, she wore a vivid purple dress that had the twin advantages, from the interested viewer’s perspective, of being strapless and short; when she sat to play, she showed a lot of well-toned leg, to which my eyes occasionally wandered throughout the concert. She’s got a pretty face, too, with an adorable toothy smile and a nice contemplative closed-mouthed look. Her record label, Deutsche Grammophon, featured the latter on the cover of her latest CD, along with a decorous dollop of cleavage.
I can’t imagine she’s looked less hot in any of her other recitals, but I didn’t see in a recent bout of Web-wandering for reviews and interviews (Joe Banno came closest). The people, however, have discussed Wang’s attractiveness in many comment sections, often in the kind of juvenile terms I employ in casual conversation but eschew when writing for this highly respectable blog. (Wait, what?) And, in an ironic twist, ever since I mentioned the phrase’s prominence in Google AutoSuggest in that NSO review, the most popular search phrase to reach this blog has been “yuja wang boyfriend.”
The lack of “official” discussion does not surprise me. Using my amazing powers to blindly attribute motives, I have determined that classical folk don’t like to discuss whether performers are hot for the following reasons:
- A widespread belief that people who are not as attractive as Wang should be able to have successful solo careers if they can play like Wang. I am sympathetic to this viewpoint, but one must also acknowledge that attractive people have had an easier time than less attractive people throughout human history.
- Discomfort with the thought that we might focus on the performer, when the important thing is the music being performed and how the performer serves it. You can read more about this here if you are interested. As an audience member, I believe it is possible to appreciate both at once. Really. Our brains are that big.
- Unawareness, or unwillingness to acknowledge, that visual presentation affects how we hear music. This baffles me, and I will take it up in more detail later.
- Classical music’s incredible discomfort with the body, as opposed to the mind. To some extent, the institutional classical-music dichotomy between pop and classical is the same as the false dichotomy between the body and the mind, as you can see by the fact that pop opponents always choose dance music as the target for their ire (the current fave is Lady Gaga). The idea, as best I can tell, is that the mind is better than the body and thus should be used exclusively to comprehend classical music and its performances. The problem is that it is very difficult to actually enforce such judgments, because we need the body to do stuff for us, like eat and breathe. (The body has also been shown to be a superior dancer.) And if it also likes to throw in a little lust, what’s the harm? The mind is there to stop the body from doing anything stupid like deciding that a gorgeous pianist nailed that scherzo when he or she actually didn’t, right?
So classical music reviews should start decorously mentioning it when the performers are attractive, as I’ve been doing since I started this blog. (Maybe I should start mentioning it indecorously, just to drag the debate forward.) Obviously, when a performer is less attractive, we don’t need to mention that, because when in human discourse is it polite to mention that? But giving the body just a little more of a toehold in our discourse might make our discussions feel more real and immediate in other ways, too. And at the very least, those of us (like me) who have both superficial and profound interests in classical music performers would be getting the info they need.