Lang Lang puts a new spin on classical music

Lang Lang puts a new spin on classical music

International mega music star Lang Lang tells Leon Lee how classical music can stay classic while appealing to a whole new generation


Lang Lang_L
Photos: Sony Music
When you think of classical music, "cool", "playful" or "innovative" probably aren't the first words to pop into your mind. But those are the perfect adjectives to describe Chinese pianist Lang Lang. An anomaly in this typically reserved genre, he is well known for his energetic live performances and showmanship. And he was exactly the same when we interviewed him, excitedly expressing his thoughts and gesticulating grandly with his talented hands.

Classical music has defined Lang's life, and with all that it's given to him, he wants to give back to the next generation.

The 30-year-old musician has long been the face of modern classical music, both in Asia and around the world. As a child prodigy, he gave his first public recital at the age of five and by the time he was 13, he had played at the Beijing Concert Hall and won first place at the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in Japan. Since then, he has performed in iconic concert halls with world-class orchestras all over the world, with notable performances in New York's Carnegie Hall and London's Royal Albert Hall.

Lang defies the common image of a classical pianist. He's a classical musician who receives almost rockstar-like recognition from the public. He takes an innovative approach to making classical music more in tune with modern tastes, for example by embracing social media and new music trends such as dubstep.

In the music video for Ocean 12, from his recently-released record The Chopin Album, he performs with popular dubstep dancer, Marquese Scott (pictured with Lang), making for an unlikely collaboration that he is proud of.

"There are many talents around the world, not necessarily from the classical [realm]," says Lang. "Like Marquese ... when he starts dancing, it's like he has no bones. It's just incredible visual art. This is his first collaboration with a classical musician and I thought it was quite successful ... [But] we didn't break boundaries; it is still classical music. We didn't even add beats, it's just totally Chopin. But it worked."

Lang's decision to record an album of Chopin, whom he sees as a crucial composer for all pianists to study, reflects his desire to enrich the lives of children through classical music. "I hope to create a nice environment to nurture more musicians," he says. "A solid foundation in music is essential. We must make the most of the earliest stages in a child's development."

In 2008, he established the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, which offers guidance, opportunities and scholarships to aspiring young musicians. In the "101 Pianists" programme, they take 100 young pianists, seat them two to a piano, and make them work together. At the end of the session, the students get to play with Lang, and he offers additional critiques and encouragement.

"We don't just tell them what to do. We want them to learn how they are going to do it together," Lang says. "It's like English: you have to use it and practise it.

"People need to learn a little bit before they appreciate it. Some people start listening to music and never learn anything. They need to know what they are listening for."

Lang hopes to make classical even more popular in 20 years' time.

"It's impossible that everyone will like classical music," he acknowledges. "But I at least want them to know what it sounds like."


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