Pianists of the Age to Put on a Show
Moments after he made his Carnegie Hall debut on Tuesday night, Marc Yu, a 10-year-old pianist from Pasadena, Calif., faced a challenge nearly as daunting: Lang Lang, the Chinese superstar pianist, thrust a microphone into Mr. Yu’s hand and asked him how he felt about playing at Carnegie. “It’s one of those magical places where the gods live, or fairies,” Mr. Yu said. “And I would love to come back.”
Mr. Yu will no doubt get his wish. Already a seasoned performer, he played with Mr. Lang during the 2008 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London. That Mr. Lang has served as a role model was evident not just in Mr. Yu’s camera-ready tousled hair and his bright red socks, which peeked out from under crisp black trousers, but also in the way his torso swayed and his hands fluttered through the air as he and Mr. Lang played a clean, slightly demure account of Schubert’s Rondo in A (D. 951).
Call it Lang Lang’s sentimental journey. The program — “Lang Lang and Friends,” part of Carnegie Hall’s Ancient Paths, Modern Voices festival — cast Mr. Lang mostly in the roles of congenial host and accompanist to guests with whom he had personal connections. There was Guo Gan, who plays the erhu (a Chinese fiddle), which his father had taught Mr. Lang’s father to play. GeQun Wang, a tenor, had served as a translator when Mr. Lang went to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1997.
Mind you, Mr. Lang’s guests earned their spots on the bill. Mr. Guo, a magnificent performer, shaped melodies with the expressive contours of vocal lines in Hua Yanjun’s “Moon Reflected on the Er-Quan Spring” and provided flourishes that might give a violinist pause during Huang Haihuai’s “Horse Racing.” Mr. Wang sang handsomely in Gu Jianfen’s “That Is Me, Mama” and two traditional selections, “Ussuri Fishermen’s Song” and “Under the Silver Moonlight.”
Three of the younger performers, all pianists and beneficiaries of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, were Carnegie Hall veterans: Anna Larsen and Charlie Liu, both 9, and Derek Wang, 11, captured attention during the YouTube Symphony Orchestra concert in April. Here, joined by another pianist, Jingyi Zhang, they dug into Mack Wilberg’s “Fantasy on Themes From Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ ” with more seriousness than the gaudy pastiche warranted.
Asked by Mr. Lang for his impressions, Derek Wang said, “Carnegie Hall is where you turn from a person playing piano into a pianist.” Here it was also where Mr. Lang, sometimes prone to a nearly reckless flamboyance, showed that he could be a deferential colleague. Joined by the violinist David Chan and the cellist Hai-Ye Ni for a fervent account of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, Mr. Lang played with copious spirit, tempered with abundant taste.