Lang Lang

Editor's Choice

An international sensation, Lang Lang was the first Chinese pianist to perform with Philharmonic Orchestras of Berlin and Vienna. In great demand around the world, his career to date has seen him on the stage and in the studio, engaging enthusiastically in classical crossover, and becoming involved with music education initiatives. Lang Lang's earliest exposure to music came by an unlikely combination of classic Western cartoons and the two-stringed erhu played by his father. In 'Dragon Songs' he bridges the gap between western and Chinese musical cultures, adding traditional instruments to piano arrangements of folk tunes, and showcasing the 'Yellow River' Piano Concerto. The concerto, a collaboratively arranged version of a 1939 cantata of the same name is not without its controversies. A product of the Cultural Revolution, the music is inspired by folk melodies and a patriotic poem and was somewhat politically charged to the extent that it wasn't heard for many years following the death of Mao Zedong. Lang Lang is one of several contemporary pianists to aid in the concerto's revival, and his global high profile has brought traditional Chinese music to new listeners while providing Chinese audiences with a fresh take on an interesting part of their musical heritage.

Biography

Arguably the most famous Chinese pianist of all time, Lang Lang has become a superstar on the Classical music stage, with the popularity and charisma of many leading rock musicians. Many of his performances and interviews are available online, and several have drawn over one million hits. His recordings are hits, too, and his concerts are regularly sold-out well ahead of schedule. Lang's manner during performance can be eccentric but fascinating: he is very animated, often smiles, and often looks away from the keyboard even during extremely difficult passages. While Lang plays many traditional and contemporary Chinese works, he performs mostly Western repertory, with the names Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev regularly appearing on his programs. Lang has toured widely throughout Asia, Europe, the U.K., U.S., and elsewhere across the globe. He has made numerous recordings, most of them available from DG, Decca, Telarc, and Sony.

Lang Lang was born in Shenyang, China, on June 14, 1982. His father is a well-known musician in China who plays the ehru. At three, reportedly inspired by a scrap of one of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, Lang began piano lessons and at five won a local competition. In 1991 nine-year-old Lang moved with his father to Beijing for studies at the Central Music Conservatory. Despite initial troubles there, he advanced under the guidance of Zhao Ping-Guo. Lang won the 1993 Beijing-based Xing Hai Cup Piano Competition and the following year captured first prize at the International Competition for Young Pianists, in Ettlingen, Germany.

Lang appeared on Japanese television in 1995 in a performance of the Chopin Second Concerto, with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. At 15 (1997) he began studies at the Curtis Institute with Gary Graffman.

In 1999 he debuted at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago with an acclaimed performance of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto. 2001 was another breakthrough year: Lang debuted at Carnegie Hall in a program of Haydn, Schubert, Tan Dun, Schumann, Chopin, and Liszt, and then went on tour to Beijing with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He also debuted later that year at the Proms, in Royal Albert Hall, London.

Lang's 2003 CD of the Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn first piano concertos with Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, on DG, drew much critical acclaim. Further successful recordings and concerts followed, including his 2007 appearance at the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden. Lang's performance at the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing was reportedly viewed by more than a billion people. Lang appeared with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall for the 2010 New Year's Eve China Festival. He is the author of an autobiography, Journey of a Thousand Miles; it has also been released as Playing with Flying Keys, a version for children.

Controversy erupted in Lang's career when on January 19, 2011, he appeared at the White House and performed an arrangement of My Motherland, a Chinese melody once associated with anti-American feelings. Lang graciously responded to negative commentary that he intended no criticism whatever of the U.S. Among Lang's more acclaimed recordings is his 2010 Sony CD/DVD, Lang Lang Live in Vienna, which features works by Beethoven, Chopin, Prokofiev, and Albeniz.

In the 2010s Lang has aimed squarely at mainstream audiences and has been rewarded with consistently strong album sales. He has released survey albums devoted to Liszt (My Piano Hero), Chopin, and Mozart, as well as thematic programs: Piano Daydreams and New York Rhapsody (both 2016). On the latter album he served as accompanist to such diverse popular singers as alternative country songwriter Jason Isbell and traditional jazz chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux. The year 2017 saw Lang record a pair of piano concertos by film composer Howard Shore of Lord of the Rings fame.

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