Lang Lang: Carnegie Hall+ Artist to Watch
Among the latest entries to Carnegie Hall+—and the first with performances from Carnegie Hall itself—are two programs that feature a performer once hailed by The New York Times as “the world’s most famous classical pianist.” With two films, Lang Lang brings to Carnegie Hall+ his first solo recital at the Hall and a companion documentary about that evening, introducing several of the works and reminiscing about the humble beginnings that shaped his musicianship.
A child prodigy from Northeastern China, Lang Lang was raised by a doting yet strict father who was himself a master of the traditional bowed erhu. After some early training at the Central Music Conservatory in Beijing, the 15-year-old musician relocated in 1997 to Philadelphia, where he took up advanced study with legendary pianist Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music. Two years later, he made headlines in Illinois as an eleventh-hour replacement for an ailing André Watts at the Ravinia Festival’s Gala of the Century, performing alongside the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Christoph Eschenbach.
Lang Lang’s signature swashbuckling at the keys—his attack, which seemed to detonate new and unknown thrills in every masterwork on which he got his hands—would soon earn him admirers in New York City as well. In 2001 at the age of 18, he made his eagerly anticipated Carnegie Hall debut alongside the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and his rendition of Grieg’s Piano Concerto danced like the wind. “Virtuoso fireworks are only a part of the story,” marveled The New York Times. “In his large hands, this aging warhorse became so compelling that the audience was on its feet shouting before the final notes had died away.”
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Two years later, Lang Lang returned to the venue for his first outing there as a solo recitalist. His 2003 program, documented by Deutsche Gramophone and now available for streaming on Carnegie Hall+, offered a stunning overview of his many musical gifts. As he made his way through Schubert’s treacherous “Wanderer Fantasy” and Liszt’s tempestuous Réminiscences du Don Juan, he turned in transcendent performances—and kickstarted a dazzling relationship between artist and institution that continues to this day.
“Playing Chinese music in the West is very good for me,” explains Lang Lang on the documentary accompanying the recital, which includes a poignant rendition of a Chinese folk song alongside his father, Lang Guo-ren. “And it’s good for the exchanging of culture.”
Yet Lang Lang’s musical diplomacy reaches far beyond the bounds of simple geography. Eager to avail themselves of his classical perspective, several pop and rock artists—including Billy Joel (that other “Piano Man”) and Metallica—have lined up to collaborate with him.
At the same time, Lang Lang’s unforgettable showmanship translates well to his other pursuits: As a newly minted celebrity, he has found his name everywhere, from a line of grand pianos by Steinway to sneakers by Adidas. In August 2008, Lang Lang’s artistry reached two billion people in real time, when he premiered an eight-minute concerto at the Opening Ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
In the years since, Lang Lang has continued to stretch his artistic wings. He has most recently turned his attention to the more intimate and refined terrain of J. S. Bach and Mozart—a novel direction for the star pianist, and one that has won him renewed praise. With his Carnegie Hall recital and documentary making their way to Carnegie Hall+, subscribers now have the rare chance to revisit some of his early magic and see how it set the bar for what was to come.
Photo of Lang Lang by Chris Lee.
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Carnegie Hall+ February 2022 Highlights
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