On her return to L.A., Yuja Wang skirts the wardrobe debate

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Pianist Yuja Wang, whose last L.A. performance touched off a spirited debate about classical concert attire after she entered the stage of the Hollywood Bowl this summer in a thigh-grazing, body-hugging orange dress, has a schedule that brings her back to town to rejoin the Los Angeles Philharmonic, this time at Walt Disney Concert Hall starting Friday.

Whether she’ll wear something as incendiary as that short orange dress remains to be seen (though, with performances scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday she’ll have plenty of opportunity to mix things up). But one thing’s for sure: Wang has no intention of deconstructing her wardrobe choices –- past, present or future –- with us, having declined an interview request through her representatives.


While we can certainly understand Wang’s reluctance to return to the scene of the fashion crime -- so to speak (in all honesty, what we really wanted to know, from the time we first saw the dress, was who made it) -- it’s kind of the wardrobe equivalent of shutting the barn door after all the well-shod horses have fled, since a survey of recently published pieces about the piano virtuoso finds her to be increasingly fair game for the red-carpet-commentary level of sartorial scorekeeping that seemed near sacrilegious at the time of her August debut at the Hollywood Bowl.

The Oct. 22 New York Times review of her recent Carnegie Hall debut, for example, included the following observation: “Ms. Wang looked striking in a simple, elegant black dress, though her shiny stiletto heels were a daring touch. I think she would want it reported that for the second half she changed into a more revealing velvety dress, slit open at the side.”

And the Denver Post’s Oct. 5 review of the 24-year-old Chinese pianists debut with the Friends of Chamber Music at Gates Concert Hall in Denver, Colo., observed that Wang “exuded sex appeal. … Wearing the shortest possible blue dress with the highest possible black, patent-leather stiletto heels, she was captivating to watch -- less for her appearance, though, than her prodigious talent.” A couple of recently published interviews tackle the topic of that infamous orange dress directly. A Q-and-A that appeared in the Oct. 11 Houston Chronicle -- in advance of her recital there -- included the following exchange:

Q: I feel I should ask you about your choice of concert attire, which has been much debated in the press lately. Why do you wear such small dresses on stage? A: I’ve been wearing them for a few years now. But it was just recently that it was blown up into a controversy after a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I like to wear them in the summer, at outdoor concerts where I don’t want to wear a long gown. And with so many concerts to play, I want to wear something I enjoy wearing. What I wear onstage is just what I normally wear. It’s not like there are some rules that I have to follow. And if people find it shocking -- then I’m sorry. But I’m really just there to play the music. Q: Were you surprised when this became a controversy? A: I was very amused -- but I was also puzzled. I didn’t think the controversy would go so far.

But perhaps the most insightful comments come from a piece in the Oct. 29 Calgary Herald, which quotes Wang as saying: “I was playing with a young conductor who was my age (Lionel Bringuier, the L.A. Philharmonic’s resident conductor). We know each other really well, and so it was going to be fun for me.

“Also, it was 32 C, and I was thinking, ‘Rach 3!’ ‘

Among the things she tells the Herald’s Bob Clark: It wasn’t the first time she’d worn a dress that short (or shorter) and that the debate over what exactly constitutes proper classical concert attire wasn’t even on her radar in advance of appearance at the Hollywood Bowl.


“It was my first time in Hollywood, and I was excited to play my favourite piece,” Wang is quoted as saying. “[I]t was L.A. I mean, it’s not like they’ve never seen anything ... shorter.’

And, on Halloween eve, as Wang readied for her return to Los Angeles, a post to her Twitter feed seemed to indicate her reputation as a wardrobe rebel is top of mind:

“[A] friend told me he will dress up as me for [H]alloween ... reassuring ...,” she wrote.


Classical gasp: Yuja Wang’s dress at the Bowl causes a crescendo

Music review: Yuja Wang and Lionel Bringuier at Hollywood Bowl


Review: Yuja Wang, the next Chinese sensation

-- Adam Tschorn