Yuja Wang, technical brilliance, but..

Last Saturday, March 29, 2014, I had the good fortune to see Yuja Wang at Boston Symphony Hall play the fiery and technically demanding Prokofiev Piano Concerto no. 2. If you are ever going to splash money on going to see a piano concerto, this would be it. Prokofiev no. 2 requires such finger gymnastics that it is spell-bounding to watch– which I did, with as-good-as-you-can-get seat in the orchestra.

Yuja is always very much in control, a fact that you quickly realize after the intense cadenza in the first movement alone. Yet, I feel this became her undoing at times. It was too intensely controlled and for me, this concerto is about veering on the edge and pulling back, reckless and heady at some points. Even though my companion said it was the fastest piano playing she had ever seen, when compared it to Li Yundi’s recording, Yuja played slower. Despite her technical prowess (godliness), sometimes there felt to be something lacking, though being an amateur musician, I confess I cannot point to any specific causes.

There was just one other minor drawback, and again I could not pinpoint exactly what it was– Yuja herself, the piano, or the acoustics. All together, the piano was softer than I expected, and the top register seemed flat and unable to project, which is terrible since Prokofiev requires a steely ring at times, but some upper notes melted into the background instead of ringing. However, Yuja adjusted and especially during her solo parts, she was able to thunder and create an entire orchestra just within the piano. It was incredible.

The third movement was also spot-on, I could see her enjoyment and (ironic?) humor shine through the mass of accents and syncopations. It is easy to play Prokofiev aggressively but hard to add delicacy and lightness. Yuja has remarkably “fleet” fingers, able to draw out incredible subtle nuances, yet still ring clear against the mass of heavy bass notes and strings.

With Sir Andrew Davis, the orchestra itself, must again deserve a round of applause. It never dragged and highlighted some incredibly poignant dissonances I had never heard before and the coloration was fantastic. The orchestra never dragged and kept Yuja in very respectable pace, though I wish they egged her on a bit.

[college] the trials and tips when applying to jobs.

The years have passed by quickly, and I soon became a senior in college looking for employment. I had numerous friends who had worked in investment banking over the summer and returned triumphantly with full-time offers. As fall semester quickly ran past, I went to dozens of interviews, watching in despair as my fellow classmates were offered the second-round interviews and finally, an offer. Without an exaggeration, I would say close to 70% of my mathematics-economics circle were already gainfully employed, and I felt incredibly inadequate in an environment that prizes the ambitious.

January arrived, and I was unprepared to meet it. January signaled the end of the recruiting season for most large companies I wanted to enter– economic consulting firms, investment banks, equity research firms. However, after much scrutiny, I discovered another recruiting season that had just started: economics research assistants (RA). I sent off shamelessly many applications to think-tanks, top universities and economic institutions, and anything that had “STATA” in the job description. I knew a PhD could be in my future, so becoming an RA could be an incredible asset when it came time to apply to graduate school.

The year started off slow, despite my renewed resolution to apply to RA jobs. I was rejected or never heard back from UPenn, Yale, American Enterprise Institute, Columbia Business School, MIT’s J-PAL, Brookings, and the list goes on. However, the ball started rolling inexplicably in March. I received numerous interviews from the Federal Reserve– Philadelphia, Richmond, Boston, Washington DC (I did have a prior one in December at Kansas City). After a whirlwind two weeks, I am extremely grateful to say that I landed an dream offer with one of these locations and have accepted.

There is a fair bit of irony in how the world works, because this position is probably the most prestigious one I could hope for– ever. No other job I interviewed for can compete, though perhaps Goldman Sachs would be a distant second. I won my dream job after almost nine months of uncertainty, agony and grueling work applying and interviewing.

I hope by sharing my experience, others who are in the job market for the first time as a college senior, or will be in the job market soon, will find some helpful pointers. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me via email, or using anonymous ask.fm.

a pretty flower arrangement in the lobby of the Boston Fed.

a pretty flower arrangement in the lobby of the Boston Fed.

Don’t give up. This sounds stupid, I know. Everyone will say this to you. However, rejection is hard. It is so difficult to read “We have decided to pursue other candidates” or “We did not feel you were a good fit” and not feel depressed that you are just not good enough. Let’s also be honest– very likely you will have classmates who receive the job offer instead of you and you think, “why did they get an offer? Aren’t I as qualified as they are?” In my case, I had these bad thoughts especially often since on paper, I have impressive grades. It is incredibly hard to remain optimistic and continue applying because you fear the rejection and you think that it is not worth it because you will be rejected anyway. Some of my friends have missed out on great opportunities because they got discouraged too early and decided to “focus” on school instead. Right up until March, I was applying to at least 2-3 jobs per week; in busier weeks I applied to as many as 10.  Continue reading

Anne-Sophie Mutter is.

On Saturday, I attended the sold-out Boston Symphony Orchestra and heard legendary violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter perform Dvorak’s violin concerto and romance for violin and orchestra. I will be the first to admit that this repertoire is not my preferred listening– but keeping this in mind, I took along the score so I could be at least intellectually engaged.

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I was completely floored. Her technique is astounding and yet, it never goes over our heads, and she pays prodigious attention to the phrasing, to the music. Usually I would do some kind of review, but Mutter really is as intense and phenomenal as one could imagine, or fail to imagine. The BSO was tightly oiled and fluid, like always.

Most importantly, Mutter personally spoke to everyone when signing CDs, even though there must have been over 100 people in line for her signature, and she had performances two nights before where she also signed CDs. I have attended BSO concerts– Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang in particular, both classical music superstars– where the soloists did not even bother doing CD signing. Mutter is as big a superstar as either, and she certainly does not need to sign CDs to sell them in mass droves (case in point: she just released a 40-CD collection of her past 30 years; there must be a substantial market for this kind of excessive stuff). In addition, I have been to other CD signings, like Emerson String Quartet and Li Yundi, in which they merely sign and grunt on. I definitely understand the musicians are tired after playing concerts and do not expect much, which is why I am so pleasantly surprised that Mutter seemed full of energy and smiles, even having the usher take photos of her signing CDs. 

Heart hammering away, I did speak briefly with Mutter, and I babbled how my favorite recording of hers was Tzigane. Her eyebrows knitted together and told me that she would be playing it in a concert cycle in 2016 in the United States, and I told her I’d see her there. Fingers crossed Tzigane is with a full orchestra and not piano accompaniment. But heck, she is Sophie-Anne Mutter– she can snap her fingers and any orchestra will come running. Mutter has the rare ability to appeal to a wide audience and critics alike, increasingly difficult in a “everyone-is-a-critic” world.

I feel sad for my college, i.e. The Naked Man Is On My Campus

Over the past few days, a maelstrom has been gathering at Wellesley College– and no, it was not the snowstorm on Wednesday– it all had to do with Tony Matelli’s life-like sculpture of a sleepwalking man (the “Sleepwalker”) in his underwear placed in a prominent location on campus.

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A few Wellesley students have stated that the Sleepwalker endangers our campus and for those that have experienced sexual assault, makes them feel unsafe and is a “trigger” to many of the horrifying memories of their struggles with sexual assault. As they remind us, Wellesley is a “safe space” and we need to be cognizant of their plight. Nonetheless, administration has said the statue will be remaining there until June and highly praised the statue’s ability to create intense dialogue about the nature of art.

As I watch the debate unfurl, the ugly underbelly at Wellesley begins to show itself.

At Wellesley, there is a running joke about our imagined model student, named “Wendy Wellesley,” most recently known for her precise political correctness, self-righteousness and liberal use of the phrase “I’m offended.” Yet as exaggerated as this caricature is, it reflects an integral part of Wellesley culture: the accepted and ubiquitous privilege to be offended, to be “I’m offended you’re offended I’m offended.” Regardless of whether the movement to remove the statue is correct or not, the image of Wellesley as smug, self-righteous liberal arts students is being propagated. The media blankets the entire student body, saying we are all “frightened” or “creeped out”, and yes, even the New York Times is guilty.

Let me begin by assuring you, my dear readers, that the majority of Wellesley students are simply amused, bemused, and neutral about the sculpture. Yet, I read an article from a previous Wellesley alum who blasted the sculpture and who almost nonchalantly cited the fact that 1 in 6 women have been victims of sexual assault and that she herself suffered from PTSD. Two questions: (1) what about the other 5 in 6? (2) does having PTSD or having suffered from sexual assault make you qualified to speak about the sculpture in a significant manner?

The second question has frustrated me continuously, namely the way some Wellesley students have been using their experiences as a way to step over valid arguments and assert their authority in addressing this topic. Anyone who tries to challenge this dubious authority is labeled as “insensitive.” It is ironic to me that Wellesley College is supposed to a “safe space”, yet many of my friends, and including myself, hesitate to voice our real opinions, because we know that it may not be as “precisely politically correct” as Wendy Wellesley demands, and even the smallest things can be demonized.

I really wonder sometimes– is there anyone on campus that legitimately feels frightened of this sculpture? Or is this just a fabrication, because an almost-naked man is just such easy bait to latch onto? It is easy to imagine and I agree, quite logical, that some people will have an adverse reaction to it. Nonetheless, this is still imagination, creating a problem that really isn’t there.

I have trouble differentiating at Wellesley sometimes: are we offended because we can or are we offended because we actually are offended?