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October 23, 2014
Friday, June 20, 2014

BA readies for Lang Lang's show

By Lorenzo Miquel
Herald Staff
Lang Lang’s first approach to classical music was while watching a Tom & Jerry episode titled The Cat Concerto, at the tender age of two. Thirty years have gone by, and there’s still an evident link between that episode — in which Tom plays the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt — and what Lang Lang does: bringing classical music to a massive audience.

A rara avis indeed, the Chinese virtuoso has captivated audiences all around the globe with his flamboyant, theatrical playing style — which has brought him a fair share of criticism too. His impact, nevertheless, is evident: after his presentation at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, hundreds of children enrolled for piano lessons in China.

Since he was five, Lang Lang has been performing with an unusual talent for such a young age. It was at this age that he won first place at the Schubert National Piano Competition, held in his hometown, the capital of China’s Liaoning Province, Shenyang. Shortly after he intensified his studies, going all-in for a musical career. The bet soon paid off, he won the Xing Hai Cup Piano Competition in Beijing age 11 and the following year he triumphed in the same way, this time in Germany, at the International Competition for Young Pianists. But his talent definitely grew exponentially during his adolescence, starting with first prize at the Tchaikovsky International Competition for Young Musicians, at 13. His big break came in 1999, when he filled in at the last moment for German-born pianist André Watts, performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at the Ravinia Festival. Most critics were swept away by his performance — he was just 17.

A few years later, he was already established as one of the key pianists of his generation. Popularity ensued, and with it came a long string of concerts around the globe, featuring the world’s leading orchestras and conductors. International acclaim broadened his audience, earning him praise from musical icons such as Herbie Hancock. Needless to say, most of his albums debuted on top of Billboard’s Classical Music charts.

In spite of his much-agreed perfect technique, for many classical music purists Lang Lang may be nothing more than today’s Liberace. Indeed, though his show and attire are pretty far away from what the late US pianist/showman did, there is an evident rockstar side to the Chinese pianist; after all, he did play One alongside Metallica — and among exploding flame pillars — at this year’s Grammy awards.

Still, there is an intention to put his popularity to good use. For instance, Lang Lang was chosen last year as the United Nations Messenger for Peace, an accomplishment he claims to very proud of. Lang Lang also seems to be truly inclined to engage in educational projects, his own International Music Foundation serves as organizing headquarters for his charity concerts and masterclasses.

Due to his massive following, a packed Colón Theatre might be expected tonight. Lang Lang’s repertoire will be comprised of Mozart’s Sonatas for piano: No 5 in G major, K 283; No 4 in E flat major, K 282; No 8 in A minor, K 310 and Chopin’s Ballads: No 1 in G minor, Op. 23; No 2 in F major, Op. 38; No 3 in A flat major, Op. 47 and No 4 in F minor, Op. 52.

Lang Lang is currently 32. Though he has already achieved the recognition many talented musicians only dream of, there is a long career still ahead of him. Time will tell if he will further his acceptance — both in and out of the classical music niche — or if he pushes his showmanship forward. Better yet, time will tell if Lang Lang constitutes a fair expression of how classical musicians are reinterpreted nowadays.

@lorenzomiquel

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