Yuja Wang: The American Project — glittering finger-work

As students together at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Yuja Wang and Teddy Abrams formed a duo for lessons. Wang, the budding star pianist, would practise as a soloist with big concertos by Rachmaninov or Prokofiev, while Abrams played the orchestral part on a second piano.

The friendship endured and they have now reunited for Abrams’s Piano Concerto, which was given its premiere by Wang last year. At about 40 minutes, it occupies the major part of The American Project, together with a short solo item composed by Michael Tilson Thomas.

Even without an explicit connection being made, it would be obvious that Abrams’s Piano Concerto follows in the line of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The idea of a jazz-themed showpiece for piano and orchestra caught the public imagination when Gershwin’s work was first heard in the 1920s and Abrams’s concerto was originally conceived as a companion piece for it.

In the course of composition, Abrams’s Piano Concerto “blossomed” beyond its intended scale. He describes it as a guide through American culture, “its plurality, its interconnectedness”. Big band orchestral writing jostles with Latin American, gospel, Hollywood-like themes and several cadenzas in the classical style, which show off Wang’s glittering finger-work. Nothing lasts long and the concerto is held together by its energy.

It gets a flamboyant performance from Wang and Abrams, who conducts the Louisville Orchestra, enough to make a glitzy, if fleeting impact in a live concert. Tilson Thomas’s four-minute You Come Here Often?, a light-hearted encore, precedes the concerto.


The American Project’ is released by DG

This post was originally published on Financial Times

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