February 7, 2019  (Web Review)

Through the Eyes of Yuja

(2014) 89 min. DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $41.99. C Major/Unitel (dist. by Naxos of America).

Reviewer rating: 2.0/4

The fact that concert pianists live a nomadic, often lonely life is the major takeaway from Anaïs and Olivier Spiro’s documentary about Yuja Wang, a young Chinese pianist who has rapidly become an international star known for her elegant stage presence as well as her virtuosic playing. Although the film includes some archival footage of her as a child prodigy, Through the Eyes of Yuja essentially follows its subject as she travels the world on a 2014 concert tour. There is no narration apart from Yuja’s own thoughts about the isolation that she experiences while journeying from place to place and the compensatory joy she feels when playing before appreciative audiences and interacting with colleagues, including conductor Gustavo Dudamel, cellist Gautier Capuçon, and violinist Leonidas Kavakos (brief unidentified excerpts from performances, as well as comments from Dudamel, are also included). The result is a sometimes engaging but rather superficial portrait of an artist who is never far from her instrument even when alone in a dressing room, obsessively doing the fingering for some piece on a table or her leg. As a bonus, the disc includes performances of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G,” with Yuja accompanied by Lionel Bringuier and the Camerata Salzburg at the 2016 Salzburg Festival. Unfortunately, these are stiff, unidiomatic readings that suggest neither the soloist nor the conductor has yet fully absorbed the pieces. Presented in DTS 5.1 (DTS-HD 5.1 on the Blu-ray release) and PCM stereo, this is not a necessary purchase. (F. Swietek)