MRU helps star stay grounded

Fresh on the heels of her first solo recital in Carnegie Hall, performed to an enthusiastic, sold out audience, Yuja Wang arrived in Calgary on Monday with little fanfare.

That’s okay. It’s how she likes her stops in Calgary, which Wang considers her home and the place that helps the budding super start stay grounded.

What she did arrive to was, the open arms of the couple that she considers a second

Yuja Wang and the Dornians
From left: Paul Dornian, Yuja Wang and Kathy Dornian.

family, Conservatory Director Paul Dornian and his wife Kathy.

Over the years, Wang says she has developed a strong relationship with the Dornians and owes them a lot of gratitude for their support.

Paul, who glows like a proud father when he speaks of the girl he first brought to Canada as part of Mount Royal’s Morningside Music Bridge program held on campus every summer, hosting and training musical phenoms from around the world. in 1999.

Dornian recalls meeting her when she first auditioned in Beijing for the 1998 program. He says she was talented but still too young. The next year, she ensured he didn’t have a choice in the matter with her playing.

“I was just scared that if we said no twice, she might decide we didn’t like her,” says Dornian.

Wang remembers how excited she was to get that break through. “I was only 12, one of the youngest in the program. I felt very advanced,” says Wang.

Wang will be performing here at Mount Royal’s Leacock Theatre on Oct. 29 in front of a sold-out audience …

To this day, she can recall the number of faculty, the heavy workload, and the other students that she learned with. And she thrived on all of it.

Calgary becomes home

Wang spent the next three summers learning, growing and thriving in the Music Bridge Program. Following July 2001, she stayed in Calgary, and participated in the Academy for Gifted Youth at the Conservatory.
She lived with her English teacher and took her schooling online. The next year, she was accepted into Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music.

After moving to Philadelphia to attend Curtis, she returned to Calgary to spend Christmas with the Dornians. There she found a home, more so than Beijing or her current residence in New York. “I find time here, to think, and to develop repertoire,” notes Wang.

“Kathy is like my surrogate mother. This morning she hauled out my suitcase and organized my clothes,” she says laughing.

“But she is a lot of fun, too. Paul is my mentor. When I am unsure about decisions, I ask him,” she says.

She admires how he views the business of music, beyond the performing of music. Being able to strategize with him and conceptualize builds her confidence in areas off the stage.

The red carpet

Yuja recently received an award for Best Newcomer at the Echo Klassik awards in

Yuja and a date at the Echo Klassik Awards in Germany this past year.

Germany, which is akin to the Grammy or Juno Awards for classical musicians.

While she was honoured to be asked to perform at the event, it was the walk down the red carpet that had the most intense impression on her. She admits it might take some getting used to.

“There was like 50 cameras, and people constantly calling me and saying ‘look over here.’” To be surrounded by people like that, and then later be totally alone in a hotel room — it’s two extremes.”

When asked if she ever gets recognized, Wang smiles shyly and shrugs.

“Sometimes in New York. I think it’s the feathers in my hair,” she grins. But she warns that even with her success she’s just like everyone else. “I still have to take off my shoes at the airport.”

Staying grounded, even as a star

Wang has been careful not to lose sight of her roots and the values she’s always held dear.

“It’s important for me to know who I actually am, instead of how other people think of me.” She speaks of stability and having a good foundation, crediting her time with both the Morningside Music Bridge, and her surrogate family, the Dornians.

“Paul has all these books, not just on music, but business and psychology, I do a lot of reading.”

Wang is currently taking a break from jet-setting to teach master classes to piano students of the Conservatory’s Academy program. It’s her first time as the Wyatt Artist in Residence, but she’s given back to the Music Bridge program in past summers, attending the programs when they were held in Shanghai, China and Gadansk, Poland.

Playing the piano has always been what she wanted to do. It’s a part of her and she’s looking forward to seeing where it will take her next.

Melanie Watson, Oct. 27, 2011