Having played the piano since the age of two, turned it into a profession by three and performed his first full recital when he was five, chinese pianist Lang Lang has packed a greater number of milestones into 32 years than most people can count in their lifetime. It may have been the big Romantic crowd-pleasers that made him a household name but, as the release of his latest recording of Mozart with Nikolaus Harnoncourt shows, that’s not all he can do. Here are six performances by Lang Lang that demonstrate the many sides to his multi-faceted career.
1. 'Horse' at the 2008 BBC Proms
Lang Lang is not the only musician in his family: his father, Lang Guoren is an accomplished player of the Chinese erhu and leader of a traditional orchestra in the city of Shenyang. The complex relationship between father and son is a source of great interest to the pianist’s fans: Lang Lang credits his father as being the ‘driving engine’ behind his practise, but has also hinted at a darker and more demanding side to the relationship. The only tension in this energetic performance at the 2008 Proms, however, comes from the music itself. This traditional Chinese folk song seems to capture a peculiar mood which is both frantic and serene. The two seem unable to contain their excitement at making music together and their wide grins suggest a mutual agreement that such a dedication to music making has paid off.
2. Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor
Lang Lang’s newest recording, The Mozart Album, is a departure from the big Romantic concertos he is famous for, but it is clear that the pianist has always harboured a talent for Mozart. In this performance, recorded in China in 2005, Lang Lang plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, a work he has chosen to feature on the new album. The concerto was finished by Mozart just three weeks after his 23rd Piano Concerto, but the work shows no evidence of being rushed. In fact, the piece's sweeping orchestral phrasing, and intricate piano part, has earned it a deserved reputation as one of Mozart’s triumphs.
3. Concert at the United Nations
Lang Lang is no stranger to charitable work. After the 2008 Bejing Olympics, he launched the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, which gives children access to a music education regardless of their background. He is also a UNICEF ambassador and the youngest United Nations messenger for peace. Last week, to celebrate the UN’s 69th birthday, he joined an orchestra of players from all over the world for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1. His unashamedly emotional style of playing in this performance confirms him as a true master of Romantic repertoire. The full concert is below, with Lang Lang's appearance at 01:08:55.
4. Mozart’s Sonata in D for Piano Four-Hands with Daniel Barenboim
Although he is 40 years younger than legendary pianist Daniel Barenboim, Lang Lang proves the perfect partner for him in this performance of Mozart’s Sonata in D for Four-Hands. Lang Lang has studied with Barenboim and counts him as one of his favourite Mozartians. In this delicate sonata, the two compliment each other throughout, weaving their individual parts together with intuitive skill.
5. Chopin: Étude Op. 10, No. 5 (with an orange)
Lang Lang had his audience in stitches when he whipped out an iPad for an effortless rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee in an encore once. But that’s not the silliest he’s been. Back in 2007 he demonstrated yet another skill in a video where he rolled an orange across the keyboard to play the right hand part of Chopin’s infamously difficult Étude Op. 10, No. 5, nicknamed the ‘Black Key etude’ because of the six flats in the key signature.
6. Mozart for Two
The pairing of Lang Lang with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt in the pianist’s latest album may seem an unlikely one, but this short video shows how well the two compliment one another. There is a great mutual respect in the partnership, with the two simultaneously teaching and learning from each other. Harnoncourt, a master of historically-informed performance, commends the openness displayed by Lang Lang, while the pianist praises the logic behind his conductor’s advice. This snapshot gives an insight into the energy and passion behind The Mozart Album, which Lang Lang has described as a milestone in his career.
Photo: Harald Hofmann
Read our exclusive interview with Lang Lang in the December issue of BBC Music Magazine, out now