Lang Lang opens up about his childhood and the experiences that made him the pianist he is today

Lang Lang opens up about his childhood and the experiences that made him the pianist he is today

Lang Lang tells Melanie Leung that it took a little encouragement from his classmates to get him where he is today

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Lang Lang practised piano for hour upon hour to pick up his dazzling skills.
Lang Lang practised piano for hour upon hour to pick up his dazzling skills.
Photo: AFP

At 5.45 am, five-year-old Lang Lang would hop out of bed to practise the piano for an hour before school. Lunch meant 15 minutes eating and 45 minutes practising. After school there were four more hours at the keyboard, with a 20-minute dinner break, followed by homework and bed.

"Oh I definitely wasn't forced," Lang Lang assures Young Post. He is now 32 and an international superstar known for his charming personality, impeccable technique and flamboyant performance style.

A cartoon cat inspired Lang Lang's interest when he was just a toddler. After watching Tom and Jerry's The Cat Concerto - in which Tom plays Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 - Lang Lang began lessons when he was three. Under his father's strict practice schedule, he had won the Shenyang Piano Competition and performed publicly by the time he was five.

When he was nine, his father gave up his job and moved with Lang Lang to Beijing. He hoped his son would enter the renowned Central Conservatory of Music and become China's best pianist. It wasn't all smooth sailing.

Lang Lang's private music teacher said he lacked talent, and stopped giving him lessons. Lang Lang's father was furious with him. But his classmates still believed in his talent, and handed him the score to a Mozart sonata during a regular music class.

"Everyone was begging me to play, so I did," recalls Lang Lang - and at that moment realised he couldn't give up the instrument. "I'd barely started playing the piece, when I asked myself: why did I ever stop playing the piano?"

Now, he sees it as his mission to make classical piano enjoyable. "You can't just be a piano nerd," he says. In most cities he tours, he organises the "101 Pianists" programme, where he performs with 100 local children. The children are paired up so they play duets.

"It's lonely playing the piano," says Lang Lang, who gestures widely and emphasises his points by repeating them in English. "I just wanted to have this one night where we can all gather to synergise and share that joy."

He collaborates with artists to promote classical piano to fans of other music. Last year, he performed with Metallica at the Grammy Awards and Psy at the Asian Games opening ceremony - "quite big events", as he mildly describes them.

When arranging a collaboration, Lang Lang first discusses the theme with the artists over the phone. An arranger then comes up with the piano part and Lang Lang makes his own changes. Then, it's all down to chemistry during rehearsals. "Metallica is heavy metal, Psy's rap, both these groups are super energetic, it felt crazy. Crazy!" he says.

He actually prefers to play faster music as it allows the piano to shine as a solo instrument, not just an accompaniment. But playing fast music requires fast fingers, so Lang Lang must warm up his hands and give them a quick massage before performing.

When he's not practising, he enjoys eating fruit and dark chocolate, and relaxes by sleeping or visiting museums and parks. Sport isn't really an option, although he loves football. "If I ever get the ball, no one dares try to take it from me. They're afraid I'll get hurt," he laughs.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Changing his tune

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