Lang Lang: One of a Kind
Piano prodigy to perform with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
One can only be grateful
for the equally flamboyant Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who has created his own niche, almost
single-handedly bringing forth a new awareness of the great Romantic classical
traditions. He is still
regarded as a youthful prodigy at the age of 27.
His prodigiousness may
have preceded his birth. Lang Lang’s music-loving mother played Western
classical recordings continuously during her pregnancy, hoping for a gifted
son. He was born June 14, 1982, in Shenyang,
fortune brought his mother was an eager tyke who was playing the piano at age 2
after hearing a Liszt Rhapsody in a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon. He gave his first
public concert at 5, winning the Shenyang Piano Competition. He entered Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music at 9 and won
international fame at the Young Pianists Competition in Germany at 11.
His appearances with the Chicago Symphony in 1999 at age 17 finalized his
Since then Lang Lang has
made several TV appearances and performed on the soundtrack of the film Painted Veil.
He has none of the icy, bloodless precision often decried as a shortcoming of some fine Asian performers, nor does he try to “redefine” the composer’s intentions with intrusive mannerisms of his own, although he has sometimes been criticized as “flashy and willful.”
Nothing could be further
from the truth. His most idolized
pianist is the great Arthur Rubinstein, whose renditions of Chopin and
Rachmaninoff have never
been equaled. From this great Romantic pianist, Lang Lang has quoted the
dictum, “The right hand may embellish the rubato to whatever poetic heights,
but the left hand maintains the steady tempo to which the movement must always
Recordings Speak Volumes
Lang Lang’s own fine
recordings speak volumes of his re-energized Romanticism. His Rachmaninoff
Second Piano Concerto begins with an uncharacteristically slow introduction, as
if preparing the listener for the soon-to-come dramatic configuration of the
often taken-for-granted first
movement, but more importantly leaning
toward the nostalgic yearning of the great adagio—a favorite of several film
scores. Lang Lang views this most poignant of all concertos as all of a piece
rather than a series, avoiding the sleight-of-hand sentimentalism that cloys
the familiar melodies.
His approach to
Tchaikovsky is very Russian. He admits to a love for the neighboring country’s
music. Once more Lang Lang displays his misunderstood “willfulness” by
highlighting the andante’s tempos
to a savoring, quiet reticence, although audiences are more accustomed to
hailing the boisterous warhorse of a first movement.
His feeling of central
unity works even better in his superb recordings of the Chopin concertos. This
composer was never much of an orchestrator and his early concertos are not his
best work, but Lang Lang caresses the
music with a tentative touch, allowing the listener to fully savor the slow
movements, the heart of the compositions. He does not allow the pieces’
wayward, often-uncertain development to diffuse their poetic wholeness or
permit the truly beautiful moments to slip away.
Beethoven’s Fourth Piano
Concerto is the first to really surpass the work of Mozart. Its tricky serenity
is untypical for this composer, but the drama is carefully submerged in that
glorious first movement cascade. According to Lang Lang, “It is almost impossible to
find the relaxation necessary to begin the opening theme—you feel alone and
powerless.” Like the famous Rubinstein recording, Lang Lang lets the work
breathe at its own tempo, treating the dramatic moments as refreshing asides.
Lang Lang’s unique
perception of this musical culture may not have come from his native
birthright, but he embraces it with a new, refreshing understanding that
derives not just from a love of music, but with a feeling for music’s universal
greatness. Apart from his superb
musical gifts, this is something for which music lovers should be grateful.
Like all the greats, he is one of a kind.
Lang Lang will play Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. on April 21 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.