Lang Lang International Music Foundation Gala at Carnegie
By STEVE SMITH, NY Times
Most of what you need to know about the classical superstar Lang Lang is helpfully summed up by the biography on his official Twitter profile: “Pianist. Mentor. Lifelong Student. Traveler. I believe that classical music is for everyone!”
Those who attended the gala concert he presented on Monday night at Carnegie Hall could add a few more labels to Mr. Lang’s Twitter résumé: Celebrity. Showman. Deferential collaborator. Philanthropist.
The event, originally scheduled for October but delayed by Hurricane Sandy, was meant to raise funds for the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, a charitable venture Mr. Lang helped found in 2008. The organization’s goal is summarized on its own Twitter page: “The Lang Lang International Music Foundation’s mission is to inspire the next generation of music lovers and performers.”
Say what you will about Mr. Lang’s piano playing — in the past I have found him elegant, hyperbolic, generous and gaudy, often in the space of a single performance — but his instinct to extend the benefits of his fame to others is entirely laudable. If his prominence is sufficient to fill Carnegie Hall for a concert half devoted to young protégés and celebrity acquaintances, it can’t be seen as anything but good news that he uses it to foster young artists and music education programs.
As ever, you could describe much of what he did in an opening volley of Chopin and Liszt pieces as extravagant and fussy. But you could also recognize that the tenderness he brought to Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat (Op. 55, No. 2) and the giddy energy of his sprints through Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante in E flat (Op. 18) and Liszt’s “Campanella” captivated a large, happy audience.
What I didn’t expect to be reminded of during this festive affair was what a generous collaborator Mr. Lang can be.
Playing with the violinist Joshua Bell in Franck’s Sonata in A, Mr. Lang was an admirable partner. He proved similarly supportive to Oh Land (real name, Nanna Oland Fabricius), a Danish ballerina turned winsome electro-pop singer; to John Legend, the eminently gifted R&B vocalist and pianist; and to the soprano Renée Fleming, who closed the concert with luxuriant renditions of two songs by Joseph Canteloube and the popular Puccini aria “O Mio Babbino Caro.” (Mr. Lang also gamely played straight man to the event’s M.C., Alec Baldwin.)
With Johnson Zhongxin Li, a 9-year-old pianist of striking technical prowess and an almost untenable maturity, Mr. Lang played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in D for four hands with an appropriately prim energy. Three Hungarian Dances by Brahms turned the spotlight on five more beneficiaries of Mr. Lang’s foundation: Kate Xintong Lee, Jonathan Jun Yang, Derek Wang, Charlie Liu and Anna Larsen.
Seated onstage throughout the event, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City rose at last for the encore: a bumpy but spirited “Climb Every Mountain,” with Ms. Fleming, Mr. Legend, Ms. Fabricius and Mr. Lang’s piano stars in the making.
Among among certain classical music cognoscenti, few statements will probably cause one to lose more cred than saying this: “I love Lang Lang.”
More than a decade after his debut, the 31-year-old pianist’s fame shows no sign of abating. His performances on various daytime and late-night television programs, not to mention playing at the White House and the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics, have ensured him renown far beyond the confines of the classical music world; perhaps the only pianist today of whom it can be said that he is a household name. Which is one of the reasons why a lot of people are skeptical, if not outright hostile to his work. The overbearing rubati and general willfulness of his aggressively miked studio albums don’t help. Which is why for some people, uttering “I love Lang Lang” is about as abysmal an admission to make as confessing a love for top 40 radio or Thomas Kincaide paintings would be elsewhere. In other words, very uncool.
Admittedly, I’m one of those people who turn up their noses at Lang Lang. Er... that is to say was. Because the Lang Lang that made an appearance at Walt Disney Hall last Thursday was nothing like anything I had ever heard on his studio albums.
His playing of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 1 was sleek, polished, exuberant, highly distinguished, and wonderfully alive; utterly unlike his sludgy studio album with the Chicago Symphony and Daniel Barenboim as one can imagine.
His tone was throughout pearlescent, magisterial, and spiced with Romantic daring. Yes, sometimes he would take a few passages so slow as to nearly break the melodic line into a scattering of Jackson Pollock-like splotches of notes that hung disconnected in the air. But even that wasn't so much a nuisance as it was a source of fascination. His passagework in the second movement’s “Prestissimo” was luminous; spinning dazzling crystalline webs of delicate pianistic filigree.
Fully engaged was the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel, matching note-for-note their soloist’s bounding, dynamic musicality. Some may grimace over their performance’s athleticism. But this is music that demands this kind of capital-R Romantic playing from orchestra and soloist. And let’s be clear: Lang Lang’s triumph never came at the cost of the score. At the root of the pianist’s irrepressible energy is a firm respect for the composer and the score.
Am I ready to become a Lang Lang believer? This performance would have made a convert out of even the grumpiest pianophile.
That same free-flowing power lent its charge to Carl Nielsen’s Symphony no. 4. Nicknamed “The Inextinguishable”, the English equivalent fails to convey the full spectrum of meaning that the Danish name “uudslukkelige” implies, which is closer to “That Which is Inextinguishable.” It’s a crucial difference. It’s not the symphony itself which is “inextinguishable”, but what it was intended to portray: life and man at the center of it, seizing his destiny by the throat.
A shout for joy and an affirmation of belief of the unstoppable force of life – think of it as a kind of negative of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde – the symphony is made all the more poignant and defiant by the fact that it was composed while Central Europe lay in ruins under bombs, trenches, and rolling clouds of poison gas unleashed by World War I.
“Unstoppable” could very well describe the Philharmonic’s and Dudamel’s take on the music. And “explosive”. The furious opening gave way to wide expanses of sound that seem to speak of the pastoral beauty of the Danish countryside, which the orchestra beautifully underlined and shaped. The merry second movement as well as the severe and odd third movement erupted seamlessly into the timpani riot of the finale.
Dudamel recently recorded the symphony with Sweden’s Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. He sounded a bit tentative in that recording; not yet fully immersed in Nielsen’s idiom. Thursday, however, proved him to be a Nielsen conductor of the first rank. Will more Nielsen symphonies follow from this pairing? I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that the answer is “yes”.
Submitted by Ted Ayala on 7th May 2013
I spent a few days in Caracas, Venezuela performed with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. I was quite amazed by the music educational project and had a great time with all those young musicians.
By Marcia Adair, LA Times
BERLIN — In a hotel in the embassy-heavy streets in the city's center, Lang Lang sits on a bright red couch, a modestly daring complement to the room's elaborate Bauhaus paneling. He has just come from a conference in Cannes where he gave a speech to the who's who of the music biz about classical music, social media and building music schools in China.
The window is open and outside, a woman shouts enthusiastically into a megaphone. Her acolytes answer her calls with equal vim. Inside the normally happy-go-lucky, 30-year-old pianist is doing some protesting of his own.
When he plays with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Hall in May, it will be Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, a piece second perhaps only to Grieg in the most-played concerto table. For core classical music fans, playing popular pieces is nothing more than pandering to the lowest common denominator.
"I totally disagree," Lang says of this assertion. "A lot of what you call the great repertoire is popular, but that doesn't mean it's not a great work. I mean, come on. Rachmaninoff 3 is great. There shouldn't be 'If this work is so popular, then don't do it.' In the art world it is only what you feel right to perform."
He is more exasperated than angry, but at the suggestion that commercial success and artistic integrity are mutually exclusive, the nicely glowing coals burst into flames.
"I think it's totally wrong," he says, his face a mix of annoyance and incredulity. "No great artist in the world that I know will make a sacrifice to play with someone just because the name is big. I think this doesn't happen in our world. You ask Zubin Mehta, you ask Mariss Jansons, Sir Simon Rattle, Barenboim. 'Use him because he sell tickets.' Nobody says that because they don't care!"
Perhaps in his world, this is true. Lang has been on the classical A list for nearly a third of his life, and most of the artists he collaborates with probably don't have to take on projects that don't interest them to sell tickets.
"The point I must make very clearly — and this has nothing to do with myself — is I'm not saying that if you're not commercially successful it's because you aren't good enough, but you can't say that because others are commercially successful you're better because you're a real artist. The only way you can talk about this is because of one word: jealousy. I'm pretty positive about it."
The next day at an open dress rehearsal for concerts with Gustavo Dudamel and the Berliner Philharmoniker, Lang ambles onstage, sits down at the piano and gives the orchestra a G sharp. Dudamel gives the downbeat and the orchestra gets down to the business of rehearsing Bartok. In the third movement, schoolboys in the audience imitate Lang's bouncing style, only stopping when, from five or six seats away, their teacher makes it clear they bop at their peril.
The night of the concert, the Philharmoniker is abuzz. Bartok is not the most immediately rewarding concerto for the audience, so Lang holds nothing back. His movements are more exaggerated — at one point it seems as if he is trying start a lawn mower — but it is a mistake to think it is just showboating. Lang recognizes that we hear as much with our eyes as our ears and Bartok needs bigger signposts than Mozart. The audience, enraptured, explodes.
It was the spare beauty of Mozart that got him back to the keyboard after his piano teacher kicked him out because he had no talent. At 9, Lang did the sensible thing and quit. For three months, he refused to touch a piano.
"People were begging me to [play], but I said I wasn't a musician anymore and I had given up," he recalls. "But they found the score of Mozart's Piano Sonata K.330 and they were saying, 'This is beautiful music, play for us.' Somehow I started playing and said, 'Why should I stop? This is a stupid decision.' Gradually, I started to feel connected to music again."
When some time opens up between all the piano playing, award accepting and sponsor placating, Lang likes to participate in the education projects managed by his Lang Lang International Foundation for Music. But classical music remains his first love and his passion and he speaks of it lovingly.
"It gives us a complete freeing of feelings, emotions, structures and imagination," Lang explains. "Pop artists like Alicia Keys or Lady Gaga studied classical piano before. Training in classical music gives you very solid ideas on how to build music. When you hear the music it becomes part of you and it shouldn't be too hard to understand. If that's the case, I as a Chinese would never play classical music."
Lang Lang performed on the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s 125th Anniversary concert in Amsterdam tonight, under the baton of Mariss Jansons, along with violinist Janine Jansen and baritone Thomas Hampson. After the concert, met with the Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the Crown Prince Willem-Alexander.
Lang Lang recently presented two distinguished awards to Julio Iglesias in Beijing: 1. Most Popular International Artist of All-Time in China; 2. Guiness World Records, Best-selling Male Latin Artist.
Lang Lang finished his Russian recital tour yesterday, including his Moscow recital debut at the Moscow Conservatory. It is the same place where Horowitz performed his famous “Horowitz in Moscow recording” that Lang Lang watched when he was 4 years old. “I feel incredibly privileged and humbled. Thanks to the amazing Moscow public!” said Lang Lang.