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Yuja Wang: A Pinch-Hitter Takes The Lead

Beijing-born pianist Yuja Wang says she started tinkering with the instrument when she was about 6.

Her childhood was filled with the usual child-virtuoso circuit of concerts and competitions in China, Spain and Germany, and with instruction from top conservatories in the U.S. and Canada.

But by the time she was 18, Wang had carved out an interesting niche for herself as a kind of pinch hitter — the one to call when older, perhaps more seasoned big-name pianists couldn't make it to their engagements.

Now, at 22, Wang is headlining a project of her own: Her debut CD, Sonatas and Etudes, has been nominated for a Grammy.

"It was very unexpected for me... it's only my first CD," she says in reference to her Grammy nomination. "I actually found out the next morning on Facebook."

As a child, Wang had a heap of intensive training. Her first concert was at the age of 7, when her feet still dangled from her chair.

"I had a fake pedal," Wang says with a laugh, "because I couldn't reach. Surprisingly, all of [her childhood performances] are on YouTube."

In addition to YouTube videos of her early concerts, there's plenty of footage of Wang as an adult, including a particularly impressive rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee." She says that adding a visual component to her performances enhances the experience.

"That's why I love live concerts, because you can take the music in aurally and visually," Wang says.

When selecting which pieces to include on her album, Wang says it was important to avoid settling for crowd-pleasers, and to demonstrate her earnest appreciation for the art.

"[Songs like] 'The Turkish March' and 'Carmen' ... people are impressed by them at first, but I thought about it, and I wanted to present myself as a serious musician," Wang says. "I mean, those are fun, but what I'm really into are those lyrical, big, romantic pieces."

With the attention of the classical world and a Grammy nomination, the future looks promising for this 22-year-old.

"I love music," she says. "It is what interests me. It is what intrigues me."

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