Lang Lang (pianist)
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Lang Lang after a performance at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, 2010
Lang Lang (Chinese: 郎朗; pinyin: Láng Lǎng; born 14 June 1982) is a Chinese concert pianist residing in New York, who has performed with leading orchestras in Europe, the United States and his native China. He is known for his concert performances, television, as well as releasing albums and soundtracks. Lang has done much to encourage children and young musicians to take an interest in classical music, especially through the international foundation he launched in New York in 2008.
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Lang Lang was born in in Shenyang, Liaoning, China. His father Lang Guoren (郎国任) is also a musician, who specializes in the erhu, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument. At the age of two, Lang watched the Tom and Jerry episode The Cat Concerto which features theHungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt. According to Lang, this first contact with Western music is what motivated him to learn piano.He began lessons with Professor Zhu Ya-Fen at age three. At the age of five, he won first place at the Shenyang Piano Competition and performed his first public recital.
When Lang was nine years old, he was near his audition for Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music, and, having difficulties with his lessons, was expelled from his piano tutor's studio for "lack of talent". The music teacher at his state school noticed Lang's sadness, and decided to comfort him by playing a record of Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 10 in C major, K. 330; she asked him to play along with the second movement. This reminded Lang of his love of the instrument. "Playing the K. 330 brought me hope again," he recalled.
Lang was later admitted into the conservatory where he studied under Professor Zhao Ping-Guo. In 1993, he won the Xing Hai Cup Piano Competition in Beijing and, in 1994, was awarded first prize for outstanding artistic performance at the fourth International Competition for Young Pianists in Ettlingen, Germany. In 1995, at 13 years of age, he played theOp. 10 and Op. 25 études by Chopin at the Beijing Concert Hall and, the same year, won first place at the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in Japan,playing Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert broadcast by NHK Television. When 14, he was a featured soloist at the China National Symphony's inaugural concert, which was broadcast by China Central Television and attended by President Jiang Zemin. The following year he began studies with Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Performing and recording career
See also: Lang Lang discography
Lang has given sold out recitals and concerts in many major cities and is the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and the top American orchestras. A Chicago Tribune music critic called him "the biggest, most exciting young keyboard talent I have encountered in many a year of attending piano recitals". Lang has garnered praise from musicians and critics around the world – the conductor Jahja Ling remarked, "Lang Lang is special because of his total mastery of the piano... He has the flair and great communicative power." National Public Radio's Morning Edition remarked that "Lang Lang has conquered the classical world with dazzling technique and charisma." It is often noted that Lang successfully straddles two worlds – classical prodigy and rock-like "superstar", a phenomenon summed up by The Times journalist Emma Pomfret, who wrote, "I can think of no other classical artist who has achieved Lang Lang's broad appeal without dumbing down."
Lang's performances have also been criticized. His performance style has been referred to as having "soggy rhythms and heavy phrasing," and as being "truly boring", "just bad" and "unendurable". Critics who feel that his playing is vulgar and lacks sensitivity have given him the nickname "Bang Bang". Pianist Earl Wild called him "the J. Lo of the piano." Others have described him as immature, though praised his ability to "conquer crowds with youthful bravado". However, his growth in recent years has also been noted in The New Yorker which reported: "The ebullient Lang Lang is maturing as an artist." In April 2009, when Time Magazine included Lang Lang in its list of the 100 most influential people, fellow musician Herbie Hancock described his playing as "so sensitive and so deeply human", commenting: "You hear him play, and he never ceases to touch your heart." Christopher McDougall of Esquire argues "[Lang's] interpretations aren't just expressions of feeling but the feelings themselves." Stephen Brookes of The Washington Post states Lang's "kinetic display" has also been "fun to watch", because "underneath the gymnastics, there's clearly some serious musical thinking going on."
In 2001, after a sold-out Carnegie Hall debut with Yuri Temirkanov, he travelled to Beijing with the Philadelphia Orchestra on a tour celebrating its 100th anniversary, during which he performed to an audience of 8,000 at the Great Hall of the People. The same year, he made an acclaimed BBC Proms debut, prompting a music critic of the British newspaperThe Times to write, "Lang Lang took a sold-out Royal Albert Hall by storm... This could well be history in the making". In 2003, he returned to the BBC Proms for the First Night concert with Leonard Slatkin. After his recital debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Berliner Zeitung wrote: "Lang Lang is a superb musical performer whose artistic touch is always in service of the music".
Lang is a featured soloist on the Golden Globe winning score of The Painted Veil and can be heard on the soundtrack of The Banquet. He has recorded for the Deutsche Grammophon and Telarc labels.. His album of the first and fourth Beethoven piano concertos with the Orchestre de Paris and Christoph Eschenbach debuted at #1 on the Classical Billboard Chart. In 2008, he was the pianist on Mike Oldfield's 2008 album Music of the Spheres. In 2010, he signed with Sony for a reported $3 million.
Lang has also recorded piano works for the video game Gran Turismo 5's soundtrack, mostly under the "Classical" subgenre. This included versions of Danny Boy, Beethoven's8th Piano Sonata, and one of the game's intro pieces, the third movement from Prokofiev's 7th Piano Sonata.
Finally, he has performed for numerous international dignitaries including the former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, President Hu Jintao of China, President Horst Köhler of Germany, Prince Charles, as well as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Polish President Lech Kaczynski.
White House state dinner controversy
At the White House state dinner in honor of President of China Hu Jintao on 19 January 2011, one of the tunes Lang played is the theme song to the Korean War movie Battle on Shangganling Mountain called "My Motherland". Although the tune is popular and has lost much of its political and historical significance in China, the lyrics include the line "We deal with wolves with guns", which has been inferred as a reference to the United States. The performance interpreted by some Chinese dissidents, nationalists, bloggers, and conservative US media as a direct attempt to humiliate the United States.
In response to the controversy Lang denied that he had intended to insult the United States. He later released a statement stating that he "selected this song because it has been a favorite of mine since I was a child. It was selected for no other reason but for the beauty of its melody." White House spokesperson Tommy Vietor also responded by saying My Motherland is "widely known and popular in China for its melody. Lang Lang played the song without lyrics or reference to any political theme ....Any suggestion that this was an insult to the United States is just flat wrong."
Opening of the international Chopin Year 2010
To date, tens of thousands of people have seen Lang's performances in parks and open-air venues, including New York City's Central Park, Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, suburban Chicago's Ravinia Festival, Theaterplatz in Dresden and Hamburg's Derby Park.
In July 2007, Lang was featured at the second concert from the Teatro del Silenzio, Lajatico, Italy, hosted by Andrea Bocelli. During this concert he performed "Io ci sarò" with Bocelli, and Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody". The performance is available on the DVD entitled Vivere Live in Tuscany.
In December 2007, Lang was guest soloist at the Nobel Prize concert in Stockholm, an event attended by the Nobel Laureates and members of the Royal Family. Collaborating with Maestro Seiji Ozawa, he appeared at the New Year's Eve gala opening for the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. He also participated in the opening concert at Munich's Olympic Stadium with Mariss Jansons, marking the commencement of the World Cup, and in a celebratory concert for the closing of '08 Euro Cup finals Lang Lang played with the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Zubin Mehta in front of Schönbrunn Palace.
In 2008, over 5 billion people viewed Lang Lang's performance in Beijing's opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympics where he was promoted as a symbol of the youth and future of China. During these games, he was also featured as a cultural correspondent on the German TV station ZDF and made several special appearances on NBC's The Today Show Summer Olympics broadcasts. In the opening ceremony he performed a melody from the Yellow River Cantata with seven-year-old Li Muzi. Lang also collaborated with German Electro-pop artist Schiller to record "Time for Dreams" which was used to promote some of television coverage of the 2008 Olympics broadcast in Germany.
In February 2008, Lang and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock performed together at the 2008 Grammy Awards, playing George Gershwin'sRhapsody in Blue. The two were again brought in by United Airlines for the reintroduction of their "It's Time to Fly" advertising campaign with a series of new animated commercials aired during the 2008 Summer Olympics. In April 2008, he premiered Tan Dun's First Piano Concerto, subtitled "The Fire". Hancock and Lang continued to collaborate with a world tour in summer 2009. Lang played at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for US President Barack Obama and at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo the next day.
Lang has made numerous TV appearances on shows such as The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America, CBS Early Show and 60 Minutes. He Lang has been featured on various news and lifestyle magazines, including diverse publications such as The New Yorker, Esquire, Vogue (Germany), The Times (London), Financial Times, GQ, Die Welt, Reader's Digest and People. Lang holds the title of the first Ambassador of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.
Lang Lang was featured in the award-winning German-Austrian documentary Pianomania, which was directed by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis. The film premiered theatrically in North America, Asia and throughout Europe, and is a part of the Goethe-Institut catalogue.
Lang Lang's autobiography, Journey of a Thousand Miles, published by Random House in eight languages, was released in the summer of 2008. Delacorte Press also released a version of the autobiography specifically for younger readers, entitled Playing with Flying Keys.
Awards and outreach
Lang has received numerous awards and has been seen by millions of television viewers throughout the world. He appeared in Time magazine's 2009 list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, and was voted into Gramophone magazine's Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2008, the Recording Academy named him their Cultural Ambassador to China.More recently, Lang Lang has been chosen as an official worldwide ambassador to the 2010 Shanghai Expo. Lang Lang was recognized for his efforts by the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF) who appointed him an International Goodwill Ambassador in 2004. The Chinese government also recognized his achievement by selecting him as a vice-president of the All-China Youth Federation where, in connection with the EU-China Year of Youth, his message was "Let us build a rainbow of goodwill with music!".
Lang has stated his mission is to share classical music around the world, with an emphasis on training children and young musicians through education. The Financial Timesnoted that he is "evangelical in his efforts to spread the popularity of classical music." In October 2008, he launched the Lang Lang International Music Foundation in New York with the support of the Grammys and UNICEF. The foundation was created to enrich the lives of children through a deeper understanding and enjoyment of classical music and to inspire and financially support the next generation of musicians. In May 2009, Lang Lang and his three chosen scholars from the foundation – Charlie Liu, Anna Larsen, and Derek Wang, aged between 8 and 10 years old – performed together on The Oprah Winfrey Show in connection with her search for the world's "smartest and most talented kids."
In June 2011, Lang Lang became a global ambassador for Telefónica. Lang will be participating in activities with the Spanish company in fields such as culture, technology, education and social commitment.
On 22 July 2012, Lang carried the London 2012 Olympic Torch through Hornchurch on the torch's Redbridge to Bexley leg. On 24 August 2012, he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his engagement in the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.