Join 3,553 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Pianist
August 15, 2011 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Yuja Wang (official site / wikipedia) is a 24-year old, Chinese virtuoso classical pianist who became an overnight sensation in 2007 when she filled in after piano legend Martha Argerich, cancelled a performance with the Boston symphony. Since then, Ms. Wang has become a superstar in her own right, hailed by critics for her precise, passionate performances and lightning-fast technique. But after a recent appearance on-stage in a short red dress and high heels led to a critic's complaint about her outfit, others are now weighing in on whether it is appropriate for a female classical musician to wear revealing clothing.

Picture of her outfit at the concert.

Related: NYT: Virtuosos Becoming a Dime a Dozen.

Anne Midgette (the Washington Post link) wrote the following for the New York Times in 2004: "The Curse Of Beauty For Serious Musicians; Young Women Find The Playing Field Is Far From Level."

Ms Wang now performs in 100+ concerts worldwide each year. This was a fun performance: Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Spring) with Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax, Nelson Goerner and Julien Quentin.

A recent interview in the San Francisco Classical Voice.

Argerich, previously on MeFi
posted by zarq (104 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
But after a recent appearance on-stage in a short red dress and high heels led to a critic's complaint about her outfit, others are now weighing in on whether it is appropriate for a female classical musician to wear revealing clothing.

And those critics can fuck right off. What is appropriate is for them to butt out of what a woman chooses to wear.

(And this script has been played before for a ton of young female musicians, as well as athletes like the Williams sisters, etc. It's always idiotic.)
posted by kmz at 7:55 AM on August 15, 2011 [28 favorites]


kmz: " (And this script has been played before for a ton of young female musicians, as well as athletes like the Williams sisters, etc. It's always idiotic.)"

Yeah. Didn't want to include a link to one of my own previous posts in the body of this one, but critics once accused violnist Vanessa Mae of musical 'incompetence', calling her "a nymphet fiddler in a see-through swimsuit” and likening her to a child prostitute.
posted by zarq at 7:58 AM on August 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think "butt out" is the best policy.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:00 AM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Didn't we go through this already with Anne-Sophie Mutter?
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 8:01 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, it's not appropriate for a female classical musician to wear revealing clothing if the revealing clothing is that dress because it's fucking hideous.

I mean, those weird slits? And the lace - it looks like moth-eaten macrame. Ugh.

But no, she can dress however she wants, and anyone who gives a shit about how much skin she's showing needs to butt right the hell out.

Love the shoes, though.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:03 AM on August 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


FTA - Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible. -- Mark Swed

What an idiot. Stick to reviewing music.
posted by lampshade at 8:03 AM on August 15, 2011


a guy i used to work with always used to say "don't worry about me, worry about you" so simple, and yet so universally applicable.
posted by facetious at 8:04 AM on August 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


But if classical musicians wear revealing clothes, it's harder to fall asleep at the concert.
posted by DU at 8:06 AM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this strikes me as fuddy-duddy grumbling.

Not only that: classical music is too often percieved as stuffy and boring, and is usually marketed to the cultural elite. If it's going to stay relevant to younger musicians and audiences, the self-styled "stewards" of it need to let people incorporate the music into their current lifestyles. Getting all snooty if the musicians want to dress by 21st-century standards rather than those of the 17th-century is pretty useless behavior.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:06 AM on August 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


perceived. durr. lack of coffee
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:07 AM on August 15, 2011


“Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight,” [wrote Mark Swed of the LA Times] “that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult. Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible.”

I imagine that this was written with such a pround hate-erection that it drained all the blood from that part of his brain that recognizes that this isn't 1950 anymore.
posted by griphus at 8:08 AM on August 15, 2011 [24 favorites]


I'm not going to take a position on the appropriateness of this outfit. I will point out though that she is an employee and employers often have dress codes.

If the conductor wanted to wear this same outfit I think there would be as much of an outcry.

I actually like the dress, but it seems a bit less that the usual conservative fare.

You have donors to worry about (both corporate and wealthy sponsors).

To pretend like what any performer wears doesn't matter is super silly.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:11 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh no, not another Lady Gaga thread.
posted by monospace at 8:13 AM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think Amanda Ameer, the 'publicist for classicist musicians' in one of the links said it best:

"Do I think the dresses are an odd choice? Yes," she wrote. "Do I think wearing them is unfair to her artistic partners on stage? Possibly. Do I think that, as long as they don't prevent her from playing the piano, she should wear them if she wants to? I do, so long as she accepts that it will be all people want to talk about, for better or worse."
posted by misha at 8:15 AM on August 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


I will point out though that she is an employee and employers often have dress codes.

This is the performing arts, she's on a stage as the star. This isn't McDonalds where they make employees wear clean uniforms because it makes people think the food is clean.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:16 AM on August 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


If a musician is really good, I do not care if they wear pajamas, formal evening wear, a barrel with suspenders, casual clothes scored at the local thrift shop, or an elaborate kimono knitted out of strips of plastic grocery bags.

This has nothing to do with music. This is more men yelling about what is and isn't proper for a woman. I suppose I should be annoyed at the part where a skilled woman is being judged for her clothing and not her ability, but at this point I am so used to that kind of behavior it only makes me tired.

Though the barrel and suspenders might be impractical if they played the cello.
posted by cmyk at 8:16 AM on August 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


I will point out though that she is an employee and employers often have dress codes.

Who's she an employee of?
posted by kmz at 8:17 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if this kind of shit has anything to do with the classical music scene struggling to attract a younger audience (I also wonder if the older audience sees that as a feature, not a bug).
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:20 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know what's inappropriate to most people associated with the classical music world? A knee-length dress. Black; somewhat flowy. I got dirty looks for wearing it in a casual voice recital.

This is NEVER a problem for male performers. "Oh, gee, I have to buy a couple extra white shirts and maybe a set of tails if I'm a conductor." Meanwhile, women -- especially vocalists -- go through damn near a beauty pageant. I've regularly seen them wear two dresses per concert.

Forgive the jump here, but that recital was squarely on my mind when I saw Lady Gaga's mid-concert piano set last year. Something about the sheer ridiculousness of that scene got me all misty. She played and sang beautifully, and I would have enjoyed it with no visuals. (Hell, she was even wearing concert black!) But the fact that she did so while her grand piano spewed out a ten-foot jet of flame, just for the sheer why-the-fuck-not of it, made my heart go pitterpat.

Get over your damn selves, people. You go to a live show to see a human being in all her array. If you want a performer to fade into the background, stay at home with your iPod.
posted by Madamina at 8:22 AM on August 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Well, if it's any consolation, most people ignore the stuffy old reviewers, go see the show, get an earful (and an eyeful), Ms. Wang makes a nice payday, and 99% of everyone involved is happy.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:22 AM on August 15, 2011


This is more men yelling about what is and isn't proper for a woman.

I don't know about that. If a male soloist had shown up wearing baggy pants with neon-laced sneakers and a half-dozen gold necklaces, or a white tank-top with denim shorts and flip-flops, then I think critics would have commented. This was an unusual outfit for its context.
posted by cribcage at 8:24 AM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


You don't think she's cashing a check? Someone's paying her. She's answerable to someone.

I say as long as those people want to keep paying her to show up she should be able to do as she pleases, as long as she is aware that she may be alienating some, and she might not get some jobs because of this.

My broker doesn't work at McDonalds either, but he's going to dress in a certain manner if he wants clients.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:25 AM on August 15, 2011


It's almost like classical music fans are afraid of it becoming popular or something. Then what will they have to make themselves feel superior to the common music fan?
posted by tommasz at 8:25 AM on August 15, 2011


As I understand it, women classical musicians are policed for being insufficiently feminine/"attractive" and then they're policed again if they're too feminine. (And didn't the number of women hired for orchestras go right up in orchestras that conducted auditions with the player behind a screen?)

The darn thing here is that it's still lose-lose - all that will happen is that the bar for female attractiveness will just go up and up where it's not especially relevant. Eventually just to be heard as a musician at all you'll have to wear a red bandage dress...This young woman is just getting in ahead of the herd; she's very clever to leverage her looks before it's mandatory for everyone.
posted by Frowner at 8:25 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


And some played out hack with a tin ear gets his employer a few hundred thousand more hits.

This is why I refuse to access links to my local paper. They consistently and repeatedly publish absolute shite just to inspire a reaction.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:26 AM on August 15, 2011


If a male soloist had shown up wearing baggy pants with neon-laced sneakers and a half-dozen gold necklaces, or a white tank-top with denim shorts and flip-flops, then I think critics would have commented. This was an unusual outfit for its context.

This dress is formal, unlike baggy bants or tank tops, which are far too casual. It's a really bad comparison.
posted by jeather at 8:28 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


That interview is funny. When I was back in Juilliard,it was almost like a running gag when you'd ask one of the "asian prodigy" musicians about contemporary music they were interested in, they'd answer, "Oh you know, Prokofiev, Bartok...", which is basically Yuja's limit.. although OF COURSE she is into Ligeti (the composer every pianist and most musicians feel required to love).. but then again, she mentions she's not into Second Viennese School because she "doesn't get twelve-tone music"... plus she's commissioning Christopher Rouse? One of the most overrated fucking piece of shit composers alive. I think Yuja should've stayed in conservatory a little longer before beginning her world-wide career. Now we have yet another prodigy with blazing technique who will be a superstar but isn't actually an intelligent musician. And the world keeps spinning. Big whoop, who cares what she wears? Someone get her a fashion consultant though.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:31 AM on August 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


"I imagine that this was written with such a pround hate-erection that it drained all the blood from that part of his brain that recognizes that this isn't 1950 anymore."

And what a great comment this is! The reviewer could never look this good, and certainly never play a piano as well. The green monster rears its ugly head, yet again.

I think the irritation might also come from the fact that Wang is unavailable, she is on a high echelon of human achievement, and has no need for the false modesty of virginal pretense, she sells her musicianship, not her body.

Self ownership really irritates those who feel there is a price tag on everything.
posted by Oyéah at 8:34 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the one hand, it's her personal choice, she wasn't violating any decency laws, so what.

On the other hand, what if she wasn't 20-something with a killer bod? Are women who aren't vamping it up going to see the same professional recognition and success? What about overweight or middle-aged women with the same talent... are they out of the picture professionally because they can't rock a killer pair of stiletto sandals?

Also on the other hand, how would you expect a male performer in bulge-tastic skintight jeans, motorcycle boots and a shirt open down to his navel to be received at a formal recital?

If you dress as flamboyantly as Liberacci, be prepared to be taken as seriously as Liberacci, all I'm saying.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:34 AM on August 15, 2011


It's hard for me to take Liberacci seriously, but I like Yuja Wang.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:38 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the point is that dress isn't formal, at least in the sense that is typical in this context. If that weren't so, we wouldn't be talking about it. If you dislike my comparisons because they are too casual, you could substitute a rainbow-colored tuxedo, etc.
posted by cribcage at 8:38 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The middle aged women rock cleavage on the classical stage, and the men rock the paychecks, which will be larger than female performers, regardless of their relative ability. We aren't going to issue physical handicaps to performers, 1984 passed comfortably.
posted by Oyéah at 8:38 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If a male soloist had shown up wearing baggy pants with neon-laced sneakers and a half-dozen gold necklaces, or a white tank-top with denim shorts and flip-flops, then I think critics would have commented.

...and their complaints would be completely different than what we are seeing here, and would probably be similar to the complaints they would make about a man showing up dressed the way you describe. She didn't show up on stage looking as if she wandered off the street. Men are not judged the way she is being judged for wearing what she wore, and that's a big part of the problem.
posted by griphus at 8:39 AM on August 15, 2011


I was going to say the reviewer could fuck off, but then I read the review. In context, the amount of interest he takes in her outfit is inappropriate and slightly leery, but it's not a complaint. It's just a dude having his having his mind slightly blown at long overdue cultural change in his weirdo conservative milieu, and reacting by embarrassing himself in front of everybody. The classical music world is going to get over its suicidal obsession with being as boring as possible, because it needs to. It's one thing to chug on without any young people in your audience, but shutting out your young performers is another story. God bless Yuja Wang for doing these people the massive favour she's doing them.

This dress is formal

She looks like she's going clubbing. I just don't think there's anything wrong with that.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:40 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Actually, the complaints would most likely be about how she isn't dressed feminine and, ugh, this is exhausting.)
posted by griphus at 8:40 AM on August 15, 2011


Also, Liberace.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:43 AM on August 15, 2011


Frowner: "This young woman is just getting in ahead of the herd; she's very clever to leverage her looks before it's mandatory for everyone."

You may be right. The NYT "Dime a Dozen" article says that we currently have a surfeit of virtusos. (Virtuosii?)

But she doesn't need to dress in a flashy way to stand out or be taken seriously or command an audience.
posted by zarq at 8:43 AM on August 15, 2011


You don't think she's cashing a check? Someone's paying her. She's answerable to someone.

But she probably has enough of a "pull" to be able to negotiate her contract. Her agent says "Ms. Wang would like to wear that dress" and the orchestra representative says "sure, whatever". If she couldn't put butts into seats, or articles in the press, it'd be different. But she's basically a contractor with a good bit of leverage, like Lady Gaga.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:45 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This dress is formal, unlike baggy bants or tank tops, which are far too casual. It's a really bad comparison.

Her dress is the kind you go clubbing in Koreatown with, not the LA Phil. It would be like a man wearing one of those A|X shirts with the sleeves partially rolled up, with a pair of Diesel jeans, heavily gelled hair, and some sort of laced up shoe.

Of course, she's also Mainlander Chinese. People from Taiwan, HK, and some ABCs typically are more conservative.
posted by FJT at 8:46 AM on August 15, 2011


I can't really think of a term that is appropriate other than formal. I mean, it's not formal in the sense that you would wear it to see the queen, but it's not casual in the sense of baggy pants. It's perhaps what you would go clubbing in, but I've seen people wearing dresses like that to occasions -- weddings, say, or other things where men wear suits, not jeans.

I would love to see what would happen if a male performer wore a red tux.

(I think the dress is ugly, but whatever.)
posted by jeather at 8:48 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


She looks great. More to the point, she looks comfortable, self-assured and wildly confident. She's wearing something that reflects her personal style and showcases her best assets--in this case, it happens to be a mini dress and fabulous stilettos. So what? On someone else, it might be a floor length gown and bare feet (Measha, I'm thinking of you). Whatever works and whatever allows you to feel your best as a performer.
posted by Go Banana at 8:50 AM on August 15, 2011


I took classical voice lessons most of the way through high-school and university, and was teetering right on the edge of making up my mind whether opera would be a viable option for me when I attended a master class given by a husband-wife team.

The husband had all sorts of interesting things to say about technique, about picking opera parts that suit your voice (and/or getting typecast into playing certain parts), that sort of thing.

The wife started out her segment of the masterclass by exhorting all the women present to show up to every audition and rehearsal in short skirts and high heels, because, well, the casting director is almost always a man.

Whether she meant to or not, she was teaching the lesson Ms. Wang has learned well. Even in classical music, sex sells.
posted by LN at 8:50 AM on August 15, 2011


I too am upset that her skirts are so long.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:51 AM on August 15, 2011


She's wearing something that reflects her personal style and showcases her best assets

Her best assets are the bits that play the piano.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:53 AM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


jeather, you're totally right though that the dress is in no way comparable to either baggy jeans and neon shoes or white tank tops and flip flops - totally ludicrous suggestions. It may not be formal, but it's still dressy.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:53 AM on August 15, 2011


Men are not judged the way she is being judged for wearing what she wore, and that's a big part of the problem.

There are two different things being conflated here. Wang was criticized for wearing something unusual and arguably inappropriate. Some people agree with that criticism, and others disagree. That's the first issue. Separate from that is the way in which she was criticized (e.g., Swed's "under 18" crack). Yes, the criticism was sexualized in tone. Maybe that comes from general sexism. Maybe it had more to do with the dress. The designer wasn't aiming for churchwear.
posted by cribcage at 8:54 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you dress as flamboyantly as Liberacci, be prepared to be taken as seriously as Liberacci, all I'm saying.

Cameron Carpenter gets as much attention for his wardrobe as Liberace did, but he's taken quite seriously. Of course, nearly every piece on him mentions his style.

Are women who aren't vamping it up going to see the same professional recognition and success? What about overweight or middle-aged women with the same talent... are they out of the picture professionally because they can't rock a killer pair of stiletto sandals?

Deborah Voigt, an opera singer, has released a memoir that deals with these kind of questions.
posted by gladly at 8:56 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Been Chopin, I see. Nice dress.
posted by hal9k at 8:56 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Her best assets are the bits that play the piano.

Oh, I don't know. People probably don't just close their eyes and enter an ecstatic state of sonic reverie. They enjoy the music, but also the spectacle of Ms. Wang playing. That's not to say that everyone is ogling her in a sexual way, but people usually pay to watch a virtuoso just as much as hear them.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:56 AM on August 15, 2011


Madamina: This is NEVER a problem for male performers. "Oh, gee, I have to buy a couple extra white shirts and maybe a set of tails if I'm a conductor."

Critics write about what male performers wear too. Here are a couple of examples:

Here's Anthony Tommasini on pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet in the New York Times:
In the first half, Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the soloist in Ravel's Piano Concerto. The dashing French pianist wore a tuxedo jacket adorned with rows of gold buttons, and bright red socks with his black dress shoes. Some of this flashiness crept into his elegant pianism, yet overall he gave an incisive reading.
And here's critic Jay Nordlinger commenting on the clothes (and hair) of a male pianist:
Katsaris recalls another era even in his appearance. He has long hair, pianist’s hair. Do you know this Irving Berlin lyric? “When Paderewski comes this way, I’m so delighted if I’m invited to hear that long-haired genius play.” Katsaris also shows up in white tie and concert tails, skipping the present-day Mao suit.
posted by Jahaza at 8:58 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Watching the video of her playing with the strapless gown is fascinating, as you see really see how the various muscles and their groups come into play. People tend to think of the hands producting the music, but really, the arms, shoulders and back come into use also. It's poetic, watching the entire body work to produce such sounds, it's an orchestra of a different sort.

She plays beautifully, that is all.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:02 AM on August 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


she sells her musicianship, not her body

The dress suggests otherwise.

The tradition of classical music performers wearing formal and self-effacing clothing has its roots in respect for the composer whose works one is supposed to be serving. I don't have a beef with it.
posted by Trurl at 9:02 AM on August 15, 2011


I listened to a few bits. She's a a basket-weaver.
posted by hawthorne at 9:05 AM on August 15, 2011


??
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:12 AM on August 15, 2011



"she sells her musicianship, not her body"

"The dress suggests otherwise."

Her body is not offered for sale, she wears what she wants. Slut walks go on all over this country to make the point that women may exist with out molestation, and manifest their beauty as a personal freedom. Billions are made to convince women and men they need to dress appealingly, some people prefer their imaginations when it comes to the appearance of people they objectify. Wang is the sole proprietor of Wang, and dresses as she pleases, just as she plays the piano. Those two acts of being are intimately entwined.
posted by Oyéah at 9:16 AM on August 15, 2011


You don't think she's cashing a check? Someone's paying her. She's answerable to someone.

I would assume she's most answerable to her audience and how many tickets she sells. I don't know how financial arrangements work with star classical musicians, but I would guess it's more akin to Lady Gaga or U2 than John Q Stockbroker.
posted by kmz at 9:20 AM on August 15, 2011


One last thing, Ms. Wang's classmate, Lang Lang, gets criticism about his appearance pretty frequently, but as cribcage says, it's not sexualized. This piece from one of the Philadelphia Inquirer's music critics talks about how the appearances of Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, and Nathan Gunn (an opera singer who looks more like a soap opera star) figure into evaluating their performances.
[Lang Lang's] hair and clothes have made him look like a rock star for years, and now he performs alongside them, in this case with classical repertoire by a man who's often called the original rock star, Franz Liszt. If you were Lang Lang and asked to be in such a visible forum - you can see it on iTunes if you have a properly up-to-date Mac - would you say yes? And would you dress in the appropriate fantastical fashion for the occasion? If Lang Lang had answered "no" to either question, he wouldn't be Lang Lang . . .
posted by gladly at 9:24 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Slut walks go on all over this country to make the point that women may exist with out molestation, and manifest their beauty as a personal freedom.

Clearly Classical Musician Walks are needed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:25 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would love to see what would happen if a male performer wore a red tux.


I would love to see what would happen if a male performer wore a strapless red mini skirt.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:30 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Didn't we go through this in Wimbledon?
posted by infini at 9:30 AM on August 15, 2011


I think she looks great and I think a little sexy couldn't hurt in the classical music world. But all you folks saying it's inappropriate to comment on her attire are nuts. She's a performer on stage wearing a costume. The choice of costume is part of the performance. I think it's a great costume, but maybe she upstaged the music; that's not OK.
posted by Nelson at 9:31 AM on August 15, 2011


I'd like to point out that all of the 'regular' performers are fairly uniform in appearance. The reason for this, aside from aesthetics, would appear to be group morale. If everyone looks roughly the same, competition for placement within the orchestra becomes a matter of skill and not a measure of available spending money/credit. If all of the performers, fiercely competing for positions within shrinking orchestras as is, were to suddenly be able to show off some skin to get a better placing... well I think it safe to say we'd have X rated Mozart in Carnegie Hall.

And not just the ladies, given a female conductor/manager you'd have a slow tendency towards rippling abs and banana hammocks. I have precious little faith in the ability of people generally to look beyond a books cover. Or perhaps, lack of covering in this case.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:33 AM on August 15, 2011


I think she looks great and I think a little sexy couldn't hurt in the classical music world.

Sexy Bach!
posted by hal9k at 9:34 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Slackermagee - she's a soloist performing at the front of an orchestra. The whole point is for her to stand out. I don't think you need to be concerned that a virtuoso piano player performing in a short, flashy dress is going to ultimately lead to naked symphonies.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:35 AM on August 15, 2011


Wang is the sole proprietor of Wang, and dresses as she pleases, just as she plays the piano.

Really? I'm skeptical that a person who's father was a musician and who's mother was a choreographer really was the only one to make the choice of playing the piano. She started piano at age six, went to Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music at age seven. If you look at her bio, what separates her from the same kind of Chinese athletes that start doing gymnastics or table tennis at such a young age?

A lot of these child prodigies just end up burning out. I hope this is the kind of life she chose, because it's very possible it's her WHOLE life.
posted by FJT at 9:39 AM on August 15, 2011


Until, of course, the next performer feels pressure to wear a shorter, flashy dress to distinguish herself from, according the link, as a plethora of virtuosos.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:40 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize this was such an ethnic issue as it is... are Mainland Chinese really being seen as slutty, and Asian performers in general as being naive and under-educated? Koreantown disco chic?

That's kind of BS. Wearing inappropriate attire can and does strike both sexes, and it's fair to have the argument of whether there actually is such a thing as appropriate attire and if fashion faux pas affects everyone equally... but the baggage of "Chinese women play Carnegie Hall like this, amirite?" is wildly out of line and massively unfair.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:45 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it's a great costume, but maybe she upstaged the music; that's not OK.

For a genre of music so concerned with the appearance of sophistication and maturity, is it not unreasonable to expect grown-ups to concentrate on a musician's performance in spite of their fucking clothing?

This sort of criticism is what I'd if TMZ covered classic music, and was edited by my late grandfather.
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:51 AM on August 15, 2011


*I'd expect...
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:51 AM on August 15, 2011


I didn't realize this was such an ethnic issue as it is... are Mainland Chinese really being seen as slutty, and Asian performers in general as being naive and under-educated? Koreantown disco chic?

No, but this is an ethnic issue. I have roots in Taiwan, and well...it's different from China. It is a bias, but from my observation people from China are flashier. Not sluttier. They have a tendency to be more loud. Not only in their mannerisms, but in the way they dress, or the way they show off their wealth.

In the United States, it could be compared to how the North and South see each other.
posted by FJT at 9:51 AM on August 15, 2011


Watching the video of her playing with the strapless gown is fascinating, as you see really see how the various muscles and their groups come into play. People tend to think of the hands producting the music, but really, the arms, shoulders and back come into use also. It's poetic, watching the entire body work to produce such sounds, it's an orchestra of a different sort.

You're right, it actually adds another dimension to watching the performance.

I would love to see what would happen if a male performer wore a strapless red mini skirt.

Me too. Well, I don't care about the color, I just want to see the same muscles at work.
posted by homunculus at 9:56 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Her whole career is one big opportunity for moron commentators to be sexist and racist. It's going to happen anyway, so why not face it head on and do what the hell she wants? Full marks from me.
posted by dickasso at 9:58 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the "Virtuosos Becoming a Dime a Dozen" article I'm surprised that it doesn't talk at all about population growth and the increase in the average standard of living worldwide; I would think that these are going to be influential factors in the proliferation of top-notch talent as much as the other things they mention.

With several billion people more on the planet than at the beginning of the 20th century there are that many more one-in-a-million and one-in-a-billion cases of natural aptitude showing up and with greater wealth accessible to more people more of the apt individuals will be likely to have the opportunity to play piano professionally.
posted by XMLicious at 9:59 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


She has the choice to ignore the traditional standards of modest dress which apply to this kind of venue. But there are consequences to doing that, just as there are consequences to ignoring any kind of tradition. I can choose to go to court wearing a couture jacket and a bowtie, and while that outfit may satisfy the letter of the dress code, there will be comments and sneers. That's the price.

Plus, yeah, it's a nasty dress. And sorry, the comment that it looks like an outfit someone might wear to a K-Town club, while completely offensive etc. etc., is, alas, basically correct.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:02 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would love to see what would happen if a male performer wore a strapless red mini skirt.

Hahn-Bin
posted by cazoo at 10:03 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would love to see what would happen if a male performer wore a strapless red mini skirt.

You could safely shout "Wow! That's some pianist!"
posted by hal9k at 10:07 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was about to pop in and include Hahn-Bin as a counterpart, but cazoo got to him before I did, but here's a New York Times article about him and his fashion sense.

Be as flamboyant as you want, be as flashy as you want, frankly if you're there for the music, the dress wont matter and if you're there for both, don't criticize one as an excuse for the other.
posted by lizarrd at 10:09 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love going to the Seattle Opera because they don't have a dress code, and so I will see people in traditional dress-y clothing alongside people who ride a bike to the hall and go straight in wearing their tuxedo cycling jersey.
posted by nomisxid at 10:27 AM on August 15, 2011


She can do what she likes. Fantastic talent.
posted by carter at 10:35 AM on August 15, 2011


I love going to the Seattle Opera because they don't have a dress code, and so I will see people in traditional dress-y clothing alongside people who ride a bike to the hall and go straight in wearing their tuxedo cycling jersey.

I was driving around downtown on my first weekend in Seattle and saw a few billboards advertising a performance of Mozart's Requiem in a few weeks. This, to me, appeared to be a sign that I had moved to the right place, because that's one of my favorite pieces of music. So my friends and I went over to Benaroya Hall to buy tickets. The box office guy was extremely nice and helpful, pointing out value seats for us fairly poor college grads. Just before I handed him my card, though, I got nervous, because he hadn't mentioned one thing to three obvious out-of-towners and concert noobs, and I didn't want to make an ass of myself.

"Excuse me," I said. "Can you, um, tell me what kind of dress code is required?"

He stared at me, and then started cracking up. In between belly laughs, he managed to get out, "Dude. This is Seattle."

I learned a lot about my new home that day. It was a good concert, too. Yuja Wang would hopefully feel at ease; maybe she'll come play here instead next time.
posted by Errant at 10:43 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


The first time I went to the SF Opera I was a rather nervous high schooler and took extra pains with my clothes to make sure I didn't look out of place, only to show up and find myself sitting next to a guy in skintight cow-print pants and cowboy boots.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:51 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the one hand, this isn't quite traditional classical performance attire, so I can go along with that part of the criticism. On the other, the classical music world is so wrapped up in maintaining the "traditional performance" that it forgets that it's also "show business", as low brow as that may seem to aficionados. If classical music can divorce itself from the traditional "serious music" snobbery with a dance club dress, I'm all for it.

Plus, she's hot.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:51 AM on August 15, 2011


I don't object to her wearing the dress because it's inappropriate or too short or too tight or whatever. It is, however, remarkably ugly and badly cut. Can I object to that?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:03 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Couldn't agree more. It's unfortunate that this debate over outmoded expectations of concert dress is hinging on this one particular dress. If you look at the dress in the video linked here it's quite revealing as well but nowhere near as jarring. I'm all for doing away with enormous and fusty gowns, but the Jersey Shore isn't the right direction either.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 11:08 AM on August 15, 2011


I just have one question. What is it like to use the pedals in high heels? I mean, I prefer to play the piano without shoes at all although I only do that at the more outre´ clubs...
posted by kozad at 11:25 AM on August 15, 2011


It feels a little strange at first, but you get use to it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:44 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


She's fantastic, canny, fun! She has good taste in clothes! What is she doing in the classical world?

Part of the answer is that classical music IS elite in its difficulty and musicianship, and she probably could never find satisfaction as (another kind of) pop star. What would her fingers do with themselves?

All of that said, a few points. I hope that when she matures, she will take a few moments to breathe. Proficiency is nice, and it's a great carpet to ride in on, but eventually she will want to loosen up and let the tempo slacken where it should. Rubenstein would be a great muse.

And as for the sexism, she was fine wearing the huggy-thing. But fair comparisons are fair: do men also have the option of showing a bit of thigh?
posted by gorgor_balabala at 11:44 AM on August 15, 2011


So many pop music singers seem to be, at best, 75% about how hot they are and 25% about how well they can sing or play.

I hate to see anyone dragging classical music further in that direction.

"Practice all you want, girls, but what really matters is what you wear and how you look."
posted by straight at 11:49 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am picturing the Hilliard Ensemble dressed in latex, or something.

I wish I wasn't.
posted by everichon at 12:26 PM on August 15, 2011


Yuja walks kinda funny.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:31 PM on August 15, 2011


I didn't realize this was such an ethnic issue as it is... are Mainland Chinese really being seen as slutty, and Asian performers in general as being naive and under-educated? Koreantown disco chic?

I'm not sure about Mainland Chinese being seen as especially slutty compared to other Asians -- as a total guess, I'd say young Thai and Vietnamese women probably get the worst of that thanks to war movies and their common depiction as prostitutes -- but there's a pervasive sense of Asian women as being sluttier compared to the general public, yeah. I don't know whether it's presumed that they're acting out against their obviously-rigid upbringing or that their natural Asian conformity makes them extremely passive and willing to do whatever a man tells them to, but it's something awesome like that.

In music, people tend to look down on Asian musicians as rote players who have no ability to improvise or create; they're frequently considered to be highly-trained robots who have sacrificed creativity for speed and precision. I often wonder what these people say to Yo Yo Ma, but I assume it's something along the lines of, "Oh, you're not like those other guys."
posted by Errant at 1:18 PM on August 15, 2011



"Practice all you want, girls, but what really matters is what you wear and how you look."


MTV was the worst thing that ever happened to music because suddenly appearance became at least as important if not more important than performance.

The problem here is that we are all talking about her clothes as much if not more than her performance, and I imagine that is par for the course with her concerts. I don't really think this is necessarily bad or wrong but if this opens the floodgates for flashy performers we may all be sorry.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:21 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


but there's a pervasive sense of Asian women as being sluttier compared to the general public, yeah.

You could insert "Russian" or "Swedish" or Black or Latin into that sentence. It always cracks me up to see the ad "It is scientifically proven that Russian women lust after American men." but in a way it isn't funny. There have been memes since the dawn of mankind about the women of that other tribe...they are hot and they fuck like rabbits.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:28 PM on August 15, 2011


You could insert "Russian" or "Swedish" or Black or Latin into that sentence.

I certainly could, yes.
posted by Errant at 1:34 PM on August 15, 2011


Ugh, the LA Times needs new music critics.
posted by speicus at 1:35 PM on August 15, 2011


I'm a professional baroque musician, and can tell you conventional looks/attire DO matter until one's classical career is assured - a tiny proportion of working musicians, probably less than 100 world-wide in my genre.
In this case, sexism (and racism) are obviously part of the criticism equation. It's not news conventionally attractive people get more positive notice than plain ones - I can recall at least one YT comment thread about a virtuosa baroque musician that was entirely about her looks, and not about her remarkable interpretation. At least pianists don't have to make the peculiar faces and/or bizarre contortions required of wind, and some string, players.
Personally, as a very masculine-appearing queer, I always wear conventional men's concert wear (black and white full-coverage tailored clothes with black dress shoes - my socks show when holding my instrument). I'm grateful I rarely have to wear period costume when playing (ruffs & doublets, or powdered wigs and breeches - I can't imagine how the feminine folks manage to play in corsets and pannier skirts) I know my appearance and social style has negatively impacted my playing opportunities.
Entertainmemt is the total package in live performance. Social factors color the relationship witj both fellow musicians (affecting the music) and the audience (including marketers). Musicianship only becomes the primary quality in the studio/recordings.
While ensemble players should all present similarly to encourage ensemble qualities, soloists might as well enjoy themselves - showing off is their job!
posted by Dreidl at 1:36 PM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Secret Life of Gravy: " The problem here is that we are all talking about her clothes as much if not more than her performance, and I imagine that is par for the course with her concerts."

Want to mention that I do not believe that this is par for the course for her concerts, if critical reviews are anything to go by. In researching this post I read a lot of reviews of her work, including most of the reviews she has posted on her website. Of what I saw, out of several dozen reviews, only three of them outside of this one incident even mentioned her clothing.

From the Contra Costa Times / San Jose Mercury News:
The only bit of upstaging that transpired was Wang's double-barreled, eye-popping fashion choices for the evening. She slipped swiftly onstage, an elfinlike gamin in a flame-colored, shirred tube dress with side vents and dramatic black V accenting on the back. It was a sexy little number that could not respectably have been any tighter or any shorter.
From the China Daily:
Last June on the day she attended NCPA’s press conference, her parents took her to buy a “formal suit”. They went to Xidan and picked a simple white shirt and cream pants.

Now lots of designers want to dress her. But Wang usually says no.

“It’s a commitment and you always have to wear their dress. And I just don’t want to commit. It’s not going to enrich me, it’s going to distract me. Music is my main interest,” she says.
and from the Washington Post:
But beyond the sheer spectacle of all that galvanic power coming from a waifishly slender young woman with a shaggy mane of model hair and club-kid threads, there are the more enduring qualities in evidence of a sharp musical mind and a poetic soul.
Reviewers refer to her physique far more than what she is wearing. "Lithe" Elfin" "Slight, slip of a figure" etc., etc., and otherwise pretty much pay attention to her musical performance.
posted by zarq at 1:47 PM on August 15, 2011


"elfinlike gamin"??? I hope writing isn't her day job. Even "elfin gamine" sounds dumb to me, but at least "elfin" is a word and "gamine" is the correct sex.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:58 PM on August 15, 2011


Crabby Appleton: " I hope writing isn't her day job."

I give her points for knowing what shirring is. (I had to look it up.) ;)

I believe that reporter is the paper's book and concert reviewer.
posted by zarq at 2:07 PM on August 15, 2011


Anyone who can play the piano like the technique link in the FPP can wear whatever the hell they want.
posted by bright cold day at 2:35 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bright cold day: yup.

There is a particularly notable sequence in that "technique" clip - at 1:20 she finishes a fantastic, honestly breathtaking passage and settles in for a brief orchestral interlude. Almost immediately she starts glancing at Kurt Masur, the (world-renowned, distinguished) conductor, as he gradually, almost imperceptibly, allows the orchestra to sag in tempo. Through the 25ish seconds of her break, Yuja sends increasingly concerned / borderline-annoyed looks at Masur, as the music goes from "in transcendent flight" to "typical fast movement." The moment she re-enters is arriving; will she capitulate to the elder statesman, or reassert her vision? She promptly kicks it up another notch, and the case is decided:

A true artist.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if she tries her hand at conducting some day...
posted by violinflu at 3:54 PM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Classical violinist Lara St. John was elegantly unclothed on the photo sleeve of her solo Bach album, with a bit of fuss, but no serious impact on her credentials. (She doesn't appear in this style in concert).
posted by ovvl at 5:48 PM on August 15, 2011


Record companies have been putting sexed up pictures on the front of classical albums to ramp up sales for years, how is this different? At least she can actually play. Maybe if she gets bored with this nonsense in the classical world she could shift to a less sexist genre like hip hop. Even better she wouldn't have to play the piano any more, just put on someone else's CD in the background then shout and mumble about her shoes.
posted by joannemullen at 5:52 PM on August 15, 2011


That's an awful dress but it's up to her if she wants to wear it, and if I had gams like that I'd be throwing them all over the place as well.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:58 PM on August 15, 2011


« Older "Having now played the game, I'd like to take issu...  |  Ralph Branca's story... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments