The keys to global success

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For those who attend one of Lang Lang's concerts, the pianist suggests that they fasten their seat belts. "I often get overexcited during my concerts and I want my audience to feel the same," says the 42-year-old pianist. "It's different from listening to my recordings that can't show a full picture about me. While onstage, people have an idea of who I am as a pianist, much more thoroughly and directly."

The pianist shared the viewpoint on the day before a concert in Monaco, on March 24. He embarked on a tour in February, which kicked off in Rome, and will take him to concert halls, opera houses and music festivals around the world.

"Usually, I get my tour schedules two years in advance. I am getting used to that pace," he says in an interview with China Daily. "In my 20s, I wanted to be the busiest pianist, with lots of shows and events scheduled, but now, I want to perform at the best venues and with the top symphony orchestras and musicians in the world."

Most of the places that he is going to perform at are not new to him. "I have played at those venues — such as Carnegie Hall, New York and Musikverein Vienna — at least 50 times. I am lucky that my concerts sell out fast and the audiences show me a warm welcome," says Lang, adding that he will perform in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, for the first time this year.

The repertories he has chosen to play during the tour cover a wide range of composers, including Schumann's Kreisleriana, Op 16, an eight-movement composition for solo piano, which as Lang says is "very dramatic". He also plays Chopin's eight mazurkas, which bring Polish folk dance to life. In his recitals, Lang will perform Gabriel Faure's Pavane, Op 50, and Chopin's Polonaise in F-sharp Minor, Op 44.

Besides working with top troupes, such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Philharmonie de Paris, he will perform during Carnegie Hall's opening night 2024-25 season gala with conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and perform Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 2 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

As one of the four curators of the Carnegie Hall's Perspectives series, he will give seven concerts in the season, "marking a new chapter in his long and illustrious history at Carnegie Hall", as the venue's website notes.

"It is an interesting project, an artistic initiative, in which I will participate for two seasons at Carnegie Hall, sharing my own musical individuality and creating a personal concert series," Lang says.

The prolific recording artist released his latest album, Lang Lang — Saint-Saens, in March. During the world tour, he will play Piano Concerto No 2 by the French composer from the album by working with the Cleveland Orchestra and conductor Franz Welser-Moest.

Lang adapts to traveling around the world, under a hectic schedule, naturally.

"I never go out for fun at nightclubs and bars after concerts. I just go back home and have a good time with my family. The only place that relaxes me is wherever my family is. I am happy and feel refreshed when playing with my son," says Lang, who married German pianist Gina Alice Redlinger in 2019. Their son was born in 2021. "My son is always happy and was born with an optimistic personality. He brings me so much joy and I feel like I'm growing up again when I'm with him. I also love reading books and enjoying art, which allow me to think."

Lang's bittersweet story of a hard journey learning music is well-known, especially that of the high expectations from his father.

One day, after watching an episode of Tom and Jerry, the American animated cartoon series, which features Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No 2, Lang was inspired and became interested in the piano, which he started to play at 3 years old. As a child, he practiced for hours hoping to gain complete mastery of the instrument. His father, a former musician, quit his job to spend time with his son to help him pursue a career as a pianist.

"My goal was clear when I learned to play piano: to surpass the best pianist and to become the best myself," Lang recalls. "I want my parents to feel proud of me, but the core of the matter is that I enjoy music and I want to become the best pianist. That goal has never changed.

"Now, I am in my 40s and my parents are older. My father is half-retired and we have a good relationship," he says, noting that he started to manage his own life and study after he left China and was enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in the United States in 1997.

"Because my father cannot speak English, at that point, I became independent," Lang says, adding that he would not become a pushy father himself.

Lang saw his career take off and became an overnight sensation after playing Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was just 17.

In 2008, he performed at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, and teamed up with jazz legend Herbie Hancock, performing at the Grammy Awards. In 2020, he fulfilled a lifelong dream of recording Bach's monumental Goldberg Variations, a landmark achievement for any pianist.

"Now, I am living the dream that I had as a child, even better," Lang says. "You have to work very hard, because that's the only way you prepare yourself well enough to get the opportunity."

Besides his goal of being the world's top pianist, what is also unchanged is the joy that music brings him. Even when he took a long break after injuring his left hand in 2017, he tried to rethink his approach to music by practicing the instrument in his head.

"I don't want to do anything else but play piano. I play much better and I know how to play, compared to my days of learning piano as a child. However, the pleasant feeling and the power that music gives me, and the fulfillment of completing a piece of music, never changes," he says. "It has nothing to do with age or experience. What I gain by playing piano cannot be obtained by anything else in the world."

Lang's success story has inspired millions of young people in China to take up the piano — a phenomenon known as "The Lang Lang Effect". He also created the Lang Lang International Music Foundation in 2008, which upholds the belief that more children can have access to music education and opportunities.

"Now we have over 200 charity schools in the world, including over 110 in China. We also donated more than 100,000 pianos to people who may not have the opportunity to learn music," he says.

To enable more people to have a better understanding and realize the pleasure of listening to classical music, he released the albums Piano Book in 2019, in which he reinterpreted the classical music repertories he learned as child, and The Disney Book in 2022, celebrating 100 years of Disney and featuring iconic movie melodies.

"For those who want to become a pianist, and who are learning the instrument, I want to tell them to dream big and focus on what they are doing. The world is changing fast with advanced technology and so many options; you need to work hard and stick to your goal," Lang says. "If I had another chance to live again, I would choose the same path. I would make the same effort I always did."

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