Tenacious Wang Wins Concerto Competition
CLIFTON PARK– If you look up tenacity in the dictionary, you just might find Yu-Heng Wang’s picture smiling at you from under the definition.
The Shenendehowa High School senior recently made history by being the first violist to win the Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO) concerto competition. Wang shares the honor with pianist William Lauricella. Both musicians will perform their concertos accompanied by the orchestra in April and December (respectively) at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
Wang is up first with a performance scheduled for April 2nd. Incredibly humble, Wang shared he is overjoyed to win this year and exceptionally excited because it was the first time a violist has won the Lois Lyman Concerto Competition.
“It is not a very popular instrument and takes incredible command and skill to wield, with such a small repertoire, making the learning process of the instrument quite arduous, especially at the beginning,” he mused. He won with his performance of Bartok’s Viola Concerto, a piece he learned both for the competition and also for college auditions.
Wang began studying the viola in fourth grade, and like many of his classmates, he credits public music education with the introduction to music. “I don’t come from a musical family. No one I know or is related to plays music; I was just interested because we were doing it in school,” Wang shared.
He recalls that his parents were pretty low-key about the whole thing, encouraging him to pursue his interests but without any intensity or over-the-top coaching. “When I started, they’d encourage me to practice, and they’d pay for lessons as I grew older, but it was never a high-pressure thing,” he recalls.
Wang’s family relocated to Clifton Park from Taiwan when he was seven years old, and the family continues to visit Taiwan every year to stay connected with family. He reports they know about his passion for music and support him, but it definitely was his unique niche.
“My Dad is more recently becoming interested in my studies as I’ve gotten more emotionally attached to music as a career,” he shared.
Wang very openly shared he was a bit surprised by his win also because he had tried very intensely the year before, practicing the York Bowen Viola Concerto in C minor “over 500 hours,” and despite a strong performance, didn’t win.
“Last year, I put so much time and energy into a single piece of music just for the competition, and it was hard not to win,” he admitted. Wang was transparent about the effort music requires of him and his mindset to stay devoted to the task of studying the instrument.
“Ever since eighth grade, I told myself that I would win the Lois Lyman Concerto Competition. I was determined to one day play in front of an orchestra. And in ninth grade, I came across one the greatest pieces for viola and orchestra ever written, the York Bowen Viola Concerto in C minor. It was simply a gorgeous piece and the only romantic viola concerto to have been written,” he recalled.
“I dedicated myself to the preparation of this concerto for the next year and a half. I virtually played nothing else and focused solely on it. However, when I played it for the concerto competition last year, I did not win. It was one of the great disappointments of my life; that something I practiced incredibly hard for did not end up getting me anything,” Wang disclosed openly.
“The journey of playing music has been 95% pain and work before achieving that 5% joy,” he reflected. “But the great thing is that moment when you feel the harmony and power of the music and connect with the other musicians on stage…it makes it all worth it.”
Wang is currently in his senior year of high school and on the audition circuit for many conservatories. While he also plays piano and violin, he focuses the majority of his energy on the viola. Wang studies with Brian Hong at Bard Conservatory and spends hours in zoom lessons online each week.
“I practice every day regardless of whether I feel it that day or not,” he shared. “Despite having many failures, and I’ve had many failures, I keep going because I don’t have a path out,” he shared with authenticity. “I worry if this is a realistic career, will I get a job?”
Wang’s ability to be honest about the challenges of music as a career choice are both open-eyed and a bit self-deprecating. “I’m protecting myself from loss,” he admitted. “Like most musicians, I’m critical of myself and am filled with self-doubt.”
His advice to younger musicians? Keep playing, even when you lose an audition.
“When you lose, just start looking for another opportunity,” was his advice.
Wang has performed at Kodak Hall twice for All-State as principal violist and also at Kennedy Center as part of the National Symphony Orchestra summer institute. But he’s excited to play at Troy Savings Music Hall because of the lush acoustics.
“Nothing compares to Troy Savings Music Hall’s sounds,” he smiled.
Wang will perform the Bartok Concerto on April 2nd at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall with ESYO. Watch what happens when you simply don’t give up.
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