Yin & Yang & Lang Lang Too! Santa Barbara Symphony Jump-Starts the 2009-2010 Season
An animated crowd packed the Granada Theatre Saturday night (September 5, 2009) to hear a special pre-season concert by the Santa Barbara
Symphony. Beethoven was the subject of the musical feast; the Overture to Coriolan serving as aperitif and the Second and Third piano concertos, a double entrée. Helmed by Music and Artistic Director, Nir Kabaretti, the orchestra was in superb form. Soloist was the twenty-seven year old Chinese pianistic wonder, Lang Lang.
Lang Lang inspires dichotomies and conundra in the classical music ether. Some think he’s a smart-assed punk - all spiked hair and leather pants with little artistic substance and a whole lot of, as the insult goes, Bang Bang. Others are blown away by his stunning technical prowess. Daniel Barenboim, no slouch at playing Beethoven and a Lang mentor, jokes that the young pianist has eleven fingers. To this auditor’s ear, Lang’s playing is Yin Yang incarnate; when his Yang is on, his playing is powerfully masculine, the technical flourishes and huge sound can be a little unsettling. When his Yin surfaces, his playing is sublimely feminine, delicate and introspective to the point of embarrassment – one almost has to look away, the revelations are so intimate. When Lang is in perfect balance, there is a musical convergence that is breathtaking and deeply moving to behold. The Granada Theatre must be in perfect feng shui — the flow of energy Saturday night transformed that little universe of fifteen hundred or so souls into a paradise of complementary forces and cosmic harmony.
Perhaps in homage to Lang Lang’s notorious shunning of traditional white tie and tailcoat, and conducting the entire program from memory, maestro Kabaretti emerged in svelte Nehru jacket to conduct Coriolan with an élan that speaks to his confidence in the emerging virtuosity of the Santa Barbara Symphony under his tutelage these past three seasons. The orchestra played with comfortable and comforting poise. Ensemble balances seemed particularly focused and the dynamic contrasts the orchestra achieved were more than gratifying — exhilarating.
An amazing uproar greeted Lang as he entered to play the Second Piano Concerto, and the electricity between artist, orchestra, and audience remained palpable to the last note of the concert. Lang’s stunning technique in both concerti (the Third Piano Concerto came after intermission, yet the house remained packed) stamped the evening as special from the get go. But it was in the slow movements of both that the pianist revealed his phenomenal intellect and profound introspection.
Tone, articulation, and phrasing in the outer movements of both concerti, amounted to much more than thoroughly satisfying virtuosic execution. His phenomenal technique enabled him to explore Beethoven’s eccentricities with an eye to discovery. Transparency of statement and response, the judicious (some might say odd) use of rubati, revealed the sub-basements of Beethoven’s thought, and encouraged new thinking about interpretation of this repertoire. The slow movements, however, transported us to another world altogether — a journey into the subconscious ruminations of two geniuses. Lang Lang lost himself — set aside his ego — and channeled through the piano as if in trance, the deepest secrets of the composer’s tortured life.
Affectation? Show-biz blarney? This auditor at least, found the experience uplifting and worthy of hours of post-concert contemplation. Such is the gift
occasionally given to the public by an extraordinary talent who can express the interdependency of opposites with clarity and thoughtfulness.
For the record, after a tumultuous series of ovations, Lang Lang gifted us with a crystalline performance of Chopin’s Ab Major Etude, Opus 25, No. 1, The Harp.