KotorArt: Yuja Wang and Martin Grubinger with the Percussive Planet Ensemble fascinated the audience in the Church of the Holy Spirit

It is quite common practice at the most influential festivals of classical music that certain artists perform several times in a row. These are the artists who belong to the very top of today’s music scene, and the repetition of their appearance, moreover, raises the reputation of the manifestation itself. This concept, partially projected onto this year’s KotorArt program, put in the forefront one of the most sought-after pianists Yuja Wang, who played two nights in a row at the Don Branko’s Music Days. After the concert with violinist Leonidas Kavakos, with whom she had had several performances at recently completed Verbier Festival, she played on Wednesday with percussionist Martin Grubinger and members of his Percussive Planet Ensemble.


Yuja Wang and Martin Grubinger belong to the same generation of performers, who have already in their thirties built a world-class career. In addition to have been recognized by a unique mix of technical bravado, musical contemplation and emotional depth, Yuja is also recognizable by her dressing style, with which she breaks the codes, thus emphasizing her own sex appeal. Grubinger, Professor at the Zurich University of the Arts, is an artist for whom write contemporary composers such as Avner Dorman, Friedrich Cerha, Tan Dun and Péter Eötvös.
The artists first performed Béla Bartók’s composition, the famous Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, but in the arrangement done by Martin Grubinger and his father. More precisely, it was about reducing the piano sound from two sections to one: generally, a section of the first piano was kept, while marimba (marimbas) took over, most often, a section of the second piano. Although it is indisputable that the material of the original composition has been completely retained, this “reading” of piano sound into the sound of marimba distorts the composer’s idea of playing with the identity of piano, which is more or less being “transformed” into a percussive instrument. Then, the artists performed the composition of contemporary New Zealand author John Psathas, One Study, One Summary, in which Slavik Stakov wrote a piano part especially for Yuja.

Yuja Wang performed as a soloist, as well, playing three études from the Études for Piano by György Ligeti, while Martin Grubinger, by performing his own piece Planet Rudiment, showed ungraspable speed, impeccable rhythmic accuracy and high level of musicality. With the members of his ensemble – Slavik Stakov, Alex Georgiev and Leonhard Schmidinger, Grubinger presented the composition Look out Little Ruth by Kurt Engel. Yuja induced euphoria in the audience with two arrangements of popular compositions – Bizet’s Carmen by Vladimir Horowitz and Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca by Arcadi Volodos.


In the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Cinema Square, where the concert was being broadcasted, the audience ardently listened to the event which was in the performing-perceptual sense on the edge of being both artistic and spectacular. Everything that was happening was at the level of fascination: from the fact that the pianist after performing a comprehensive program of the previous evening, was ready to cope with other compositions that primarily required great physical strength, to the fact that she expressed her spontaneity after the official program, by sitting in the audience and waiting for her turn to play again (or the encore), while the percussionists repeatedly provoked curiosity in the audience, which ended by them peeping from their seats, in order to see on which percussive instruments the artists played at a given moment. It was precisely that fascination that became viral, so that many were trying with their cell phones to record the moment of exceptional virtuosity. 

Boris Marković