Lang Lang

Lang Lang
▪ 2005

      By 2004 Chinese-born pianist Lang Lang had firmly established himself as one of the most promising young musical talents on the international scene. Only 22 years of age, he had already performed with many of the leading American orchestras and conductors and had played in major concert halls across Europe, North America, and Asia. Frequently praised for his superb technical skill, Lang Lang was also known as an intense and charismatic performer—and one who clearly had an eye toward mass appeal. He made well-publicized television appearances on Good Morning America and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. His self-titled debut CD, recorded live in recital at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass., was released in 2001 and quickly leaped to number four on Billboard's classical music charts. Follow-up CDs enjoyed similar success and included Lang Lang Live at the Proms (2002) and Lang Lang Live at Carnegie Hall (2004).

      Lang Lang was born in Shenyang, China, in 1982. He began taking piano lessons at the age of three and gave his first public recital two years later. In 1991 he entered the Central Music Conservatory in Beijing. He soon began to attract wide attention as a musical prodigy. At the age of 13, he won first prize at the Tchaikovsky International Young Musicians' Competition in Japan and also appeared at the Beijing Concert Hall, where he performed the complete Chopin Études. The following year he was featured as a soloist at the China National Symphony's inaugural concert, with Pres. Jiang Zemin in attendance.

      Leaving China for the U.S. in 1997, Lang Lang enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, where he had been offered a scholarship. For the next five years, he studied under noted pianist Gary Graffman, president of the Curtis Institute. Lang Lang's pace of development was astonishing. He made his American debut with the Baltimore (Md.) Symphony Orchestra in 1998. In August 1999, in Highland Park, Ill., at the Ravinia Festival's “Gala of the Century,” Lang Lang stepped in at the last moment for an ailing André Watts and earned rave reviews for his performance of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He became famous virtually overnight. He went on to sell out Carnegie Hall in an April 2001 concert with the Baltimore Symphony that the New York Times described as “stunning.” Later that year Lang Lang made a triumphant return tour to China with the Philadelphia Orchestra, during which he played for an audience of 8,000 at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

      In July 2002 the Schleswig-Holstein Festival awarded Lang its first-ever Leonard Bernstein Award for distinguished musical talent. He again toured China in August 2003, and at the close of the 2003–04 season, he became the first Chinese pianist ever to perform with the Berlin Philharmonic. Lang Lang's hectic touring schedule and the slick marketing campaign that was created for him began to alarm some critics, however, who worried that in such a commercialized atmosphere the young pianist risked becoming more of a showman than a serious artist. Nevertheless, Lang showed no signs of slowing his pace, launching an ambitious coast-to-coast recital tour of the U.S. in late 2004 and recording works by Rachmaninov and Paganini for a new CD scheduled for release in 2005.

Sherman Hollar

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Universalium. 2010.

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