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Top Chinese pianist attracts worldwide fans

Chen Nan
Updated: Jun 29,2015 8:49 AM     China Daily

Lang Lang has played in some of the world’s most celebrated venues, like London’s Royal Albert Hall. His two recitals at the venue were recorded in a DVD recently released by Sony Music.[Photo/provided to China Daily]

The darling of China’s classical music has a busy year ahead, with many concerts and recordings in the works. Chen Nan reports.

Lang Lang has played in some of the world’s most celebrated venues, like London’s Royal Albert Hall. His two recitals at the venue were recorded in a DVD recently released by Sony Music.[Photo/provided to China Daily]

Lang Lang has played in some of the world’s most celebrated venues, like London’s Royal Albert Hall. His two recitals at the venue were recorded in a DVD recently released by Sony Music.[Photo/providede to China Daily]

It’s 9 pm at a five-star hotel in Beijing. Lang Lang is running late for an interview, but his agent explains that the delay is because he is busy playing the piano. He sat down to practice as soon as he arrived in the capital from Shanghai.

Ten minutes later, he arrives in the hotel room. Dressed casually, the pianist says that despite his tight schedule, he tries to practice two hours every day.

“The biggest challenge as a pianist is not practicing enough. It’s important to keep thinking and analyzing in practice,” he tells China Daily.

Lang Lang is one of the biggest stars in the world of classical music. He has performed with the Berlin Philharmonic 35 times, the Vienna Philharmonic 36 times and with some top American orchestras more than 100 times. He has also performed with musicians such as jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and heavy-metal band Metallica.

If it can be done, the Chinese pianist has done it, and all he wants to do is continue to break new ground.

On June 14, Lang Lang performed at an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations at Renmin University of China in Beijing. He also turned 33 on that day.

In 2012, Lang Lang made a promise to himself that he would always spend his birthday playing the piano in a special way.

Sony Music also released a DVD, a recording of two recitals he gave in November 2013 at London’s Royal Albert Hall, as a gift to his fans in China.

The tickets to the shows sold out within 48 hours. The pianist played a two-part program of Mozart and Chopin as well as eight encores.

“Sitting in the middle of the venue, I felt like a boxer or a gladiator with the audience surrounding me, standing up, waving their hands and cheering,” he recalls, his eyes sparkling with excitement.

So far, the pianist has performed at the Royal Albert Hall 18 times since he made an acclaimed BBC Proms debut there. A music critic for the British newspaper The Times wrote: “Lang Lang took a sold-out Royal Albert Hall by storm. This could well be history in the making.”

On April 20 and 22 this year, the pianist performed at the venue again and debuted a piece of his own, entitled Lang Lang Waltz, which he wrote at age 15. He composed the work soon after he studied in the United States in 1997, and it reflects the influence that period had on his music.

“I like recording beautiful tunes in my phone when I practice. Maybe one day, that material will turn into my compositions,” he says.

“I get inspired when I travel, such as the glittering lake of Switzerland and the cities I have never been to,” he adds, mentioning one performance that he looks forward to is the Changbai Mountain Forest Music Festival in Jilin province.

Running through August this year, the festival will see the pianist perform amid mountains, rivers and a waterfall on Aug 28.

Before that, Lang Lang will fly to Paris and record a new album at Versailles, which will be released in October this year. The album will feature works including the full performance of Tchaikovsky’s Seasons, from January through December, and Chopin’s four scherzos.

“No pianist ever performed in the Palace of Versailles. I like doing something which has never been done before,” he says.

For the pianist, who has an ever-ready smile and cheerful energy in public, the pressure is always high.

Lang Lang began playing the piano at age 3 and moved from his hometown, Shenyang, Liaoning province, to Beijing to pursue his music study accompanied by his father, Lang Guoren, who is known as a typical “tiger parent”.

In 1997, he went on to study in the US, where he met his mentor Gary Graffman at Curtis Institute of Music. He had his breakthrough at age 17 when he was called to replace Andre Watts and performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

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