Brass fanfare and a rolling timpani inaugurated the night for the opening to a three-part program at Symphony Hall on Oct. 5. At the center was the dazzling Yuja Wang, the Beijing native and world-renowned concert pianist who finished her third and final performance of Shostakovich’s first piano concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra this week.
The concert began with James Lee III’s modern symphonic poem “Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula,” which was the perfect sonic primer to the rest of the evening’s musical delights. Full of color and suspense, the atmosphere quickly burgeoned into one of astral mystique and shifted playfully between the bright and victorious and the coy and melancholic. At the end of the piece, which received a generous standing ovation, Lee himself joined Andris Nelsons, BSO’s conductor, on the stage and took three sets of bows in front of the charmed audience.
Next in the program was Wang, the evening’s star. With an in-character bold-colored dress — sequined and bright magenta today — signature bob, and five-inch stilettos, she kept in her tradition of audaciously redefining the standard for how a classical musician can dress on stage. When she played, charisma and musicality radiated from her body, from slight facial gestures down to the almost-choreographed billow of her arms. The orchestra carried a look of respect and camaraderie while accompanying her on stage.
Wang led the way throughout the concerto, calling Nelsons and the orchestra to follow. Nelsons and orchestra adeptly adhered. Upon their solid foundation, Wang moved in perfect synchrony with the orchestra, swaying and breathing, and relished the concerto’s boldest moments with poised fluidity and effortlessness.
Wang’s rendition of the Shostakovich was full of poignant interpretations of phrasing, never overly ponderous but impeccably balanced and bursting with whimsical expressiveness. She preferred cleanness and delicacy in the quiet, lyrical moments and a firm, persevering insistence in the faster and more dramatic passages. Her facial expressions were also a delight to watch, with each new musical idea reflecting a change in her cognitive, emotional state. At times, her face carried a look of utmost seriousness, at others, a look of forlorn wretchedness, and at many times, a look of levity and joy.
Wang was truly the highlight of the night, and many in the audience had traveled far and paid a hefty sum to see her play. Truly, they had not come simply to hear the symphony, but to be inspired by Wang’s presence and unfaltering grace. On the stage, Yuja Wang was sublimely free. Years and years of practice, discipline, and talent were coming, once again, to fruition in the form of sharing a gift. The immensity of her drive and ambition are so clearly displayed in their entirety — and that is what is most special about her. Something about her strikes an arresting chord, a rare pinnacle: Here she was, a young female virtuoso pianist, internationally acclaimed, inspiring a full house of the Boston audience.
When the Shostakovich was finished, Wang took multiple bows during a seemingly-endless applause. She finished her evening with a single encore, the “Mélodie de Gluck” from the opera Orfeo ed Euridice. Many in the audience, including myself, could not hide our slight disappointment at such a brief encore, which was rare for the artist known to sometimes return with six or seven encores. Still, the solemn melody was delicate and beautiful.
The symphony concluded its program with selections from Smetana’s “Má Vlast.” The familiar, folksy, nostalgic tune of “Vltava,” the dramatic intensity of “From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields,” and the joyful singing of “Blanik” sealed the evening in a warm palette. It was a satisfying end to the cold October evening. The memories from the program lingered well into the night.