I saw Brahms's Hungarian Rhapsody on television when I was two. Tom and Jerry were playing it together. I thought, 'Hey, if a cat can play like that, why can't I?'
Lang Lang is a Chinese concert pianist who has performed with leading orchestras in China, the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Active since the 1990s, he was the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and some 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 is considered by many as one of the most famous and accomplished classical musicians of modern time.
Lang Lang was born in Shenyang, Liaoning, on 14 June 1982. His father Lang Guoren is a member of the Manchu Niohuru clan, from which there had been many Qing dynasty empresses. The elder Lang is also a musician; he plays the traditional Chinese stringed instrument erhu. At the age of two, Lang watched the Tom and Jerry episode The Cat Concerto, which features Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Lang has said it was this—his first contact with Western classical music—that motivated him to learn the piano. He began piano 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 intended to audition for Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music, but, having difficulties with his lessons, was expelled from his piano tutor's studio for "lack of talent". Another music teacher at his state school noticed Lang's sadness, and put the score of Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 10 in C major, K. 330 on the piano; she asked him to play the second movement, which reminded Lang of his love for 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, Lang won the Xinghai National 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 the Op. 10 and Op. 25 études by Chopin at the Beijing Concert Hall; in the same year, Lang also 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 he was 14, Lang 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.
In 1997, at 15 years of age, Lang and his father left for the United States, where Lang began studies with Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Performing and recording career
Lang has been noted by 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 performance style was controversial when he stormed into the classical music scene in 1999. At that time, pianist Earl Wild called him "the J. Lo of the piano." Others have described him as immature, but admitted that his ability to "conquer crowds with youthful bravado" is phenomenal among classical musicians. His maturity in subsequent years was reported by The New Yorker: "The ebullient Lang Lang is maturing as an artist." In April 2009, when Time Magazine included Lang in its list of the 100 most influential people, 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."
In 2001, after a sold-out Carnegie Hall debut with Yuri Temirkanov, he traveled 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 newspaper The 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". However, recent reviews have been mixed. Lately, a plethora of music critics have protested against too much showmanship; not enough care; not enough sensitivity. But audiences continue to adore him. Lang has become one of those artists whose career prospers outside the boundaries of critical approval. The pianist is bemused by the backlash: "You get many good reviews from the beginning," he says, "and then the critics start criticising you. It's strange. The things they liked you for first—unique, fresh—they say is great. And then later they say you're too fresh, too unique. But they're the same thing!"
Lang was the 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 No. 1 on the Traditional 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. Metallica performed the song One alongside pianist Lang Lang at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in 2014.
In December 2008, Lang partnered with Google and YouTube in the project YouTube Symphony Orchestra.
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, Scott Joplin's The Entertainer, Beethoven's 8th Piano Sonata, and one of the game's intro pieces, the third movement from Prokofiev's 7th Piano Sonata.
Lang 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.
On 30 March 2017, he announced on Facebook that he has an arm injury on his left arm. He subsequently announced that he cancelled all performances through the end of June under his doctor's recommendations to allow time for his left arm to recover.
White House state dinner
At the White House state dinner in honour of President of China Hu Jintao on 19 January 2011, one of the tunes Lang played was the song "My Motherland" from the movie Battle on Shangganling Mountain, an anti-imperialist film on the Korean War. The song's lyrics include the line "We deal with wolves with guns", which in the film referred indirectly to the United States Army. Although the tune is popular and has lost much of its political and historical significance in China, the performance was said to be interpreted by some as insulting the US.
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 reasonC.P.C Red Song 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 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."
Lang has performed at various open-air venues, including Central Park New York, Hollywood Bowl Los Angeles, the Ravinia Festival Chicago, Theaterplatz in Dresden and Derby Park Hamburg.
In July 2007, he played at a concert from the Teatro del Silenzio, Lajatico, Italy, hosted by Andrea Bocelli. He performed "Io ci sarò" with Bocelli, and Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody". The performance is available on a DVD entitled Vivere Live in Tuscany.
In December 2007, Lang performed at the Nobel Prize concert in Stockholm. Collaborating with 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 2006 FIFA World Cup, and, in a celebratory concert held the night before the last match of the 2008 Euro Cup finals, Lang played with the Vienna Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta in front of Schönbrunn Palace.
In 2008, an audience estimated at between one and four billion people saw 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 on the German TV network ZDF and made several appearances on NBC's The Today Show Summer Olympics broadcasts. In the opening ceremony he performed a melody from the Yellow River Cantata with five-year-old Li Muzi. Lang also collaborated with a German band Schiller to record "Time for Dreams", used to promote some coverage of the 2008 Olympics broadcast in Germany.
In February 2008, Lang and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock performed together at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, playing George Gershwin's Rhapsody 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 including The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America, CBS Early Show and 60 Minutes. He has featured in publications including The New Yorker, Esquire, Vogue Germany, The Times, Financial Times, GQ, Die Welt, Reader's Digest and People. Lang holds the title of the first Ambassador of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.
In 2009, he performed at Carnegie Hall accompanied by Marc Yu, a 10-year-old pianist and musical child prodigy from Pasadena, California, who made his Carnegie Hall debut at the event.
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.
In 2010, he was featured at the Carnegie Hall's China Festival and performed with the New York Philharmonic on New Year's Eve at Avery Fisher Hall.
In 2011, Lang opened the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall performing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He played Liszt's 1st Piano Concerto and Chopin's Grande Polonaise Brillante.
In June 2012, he played Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 and Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace. In 2012, Lang gave a masterclass to a select few pianists at the Royal College of Music featuring Lara Ömeroğlu and Martin James Bartlett.
In January 2014, Lang collaborated with heavy metal band Metallica at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, performing their iconic 1988 anti-war classic "One".
On 3 July 2014, Lang played at Byblos International Festival in Byblos, Lebanon.
On 19 September, he played with Korean artist PSY for opening ceremony of 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
On 18 October, Lang performed at the Red Velvet Ball with the St. Louis Symphony and David Robertson at Powell Hall.
On 8 February 2015, Lang played with Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, performing Pharrell's hit song "Happy".
On 30 April 2015, Lang performed at the Expo 2015 opening concert with Andrea Bocelli at Piazza del Duomo in Milan.
On 4 July 2015, Lang performed "Rhapsody in Blue" during "A Capitol Fourth", a U.S. Independence Day celebration televised from Washington, D.C..
On 24 September 2015, Lang performed the "Edvard Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16" at the New York Philharmonic Opening Gala Concert, Alan Gilbert conductor at the David Geffen Hall, New York City, New York.
In a cameo appearance in the 30 December 2015 episode of "Mozart in the Jungle", Lang performed a version of Franz Liszt’s "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2".
On 19 August 2020, Lang Lang told a Meditative Story about his audition for teacher Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Lang's autobiography, Journey of a Thousand Miles, published by Random House in 8 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 Lang has received many awards and made many television appearances. His DG recording of Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 4 with Christoph Eschenbach was nominated for a Grammy Award during the year of its release.
He appeared in Time magazine's 2009 list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, and in Gramophone magazine's Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2008, the Recording Academy named him their Cultural Ambassador to China. More recently, Lang has been chosen as an official worldwide ambassador to the 2010 Shanghai Expo. Lang was appointed by the United Nations' Children's Fund UNICEF as an International Goodwill Ambassador in 2004. The Chinese government selected him as a vice-president of the All-China Youth Federation.
The Financial Times reported that Lang is "evangelical in his efforts to spread the popularity of classical music." In October 2008, he launched the Lang International Music Foundation in New York with the support of the Grammys and UNICEF. In May 2009, Lang and his three chosen scholars from the foundation—Charlie Liu, Anna Larsen, and Derek Wang, aged between eight and 10 years old—performed together on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
In June 2011, Lang was engaged by Telefónica to make appearances concerning culture, technology, education and social commitment.
On 22 July 2012, Lang carried the London 2012 Olympic torch through Hornchurch on its 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.
On 28 October 2013, Lang was chosen by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace—a role he says is more important than his music because it can help improve the lives of children around the world through education.
His Chopin Album with Sony received the 2013 Echo Klassik Award.
As of September 2016, he maintains an apartment in New York, United States.
In June 2019, Lang married fellow pianist Gina Alice Redlinger in Paris, France.
In October 2020, Lang announced that he and his wife are expecting their first child.