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Enter the Dragon

It has always been Lang Lang's dream and his artistic vision to bring Chinese music to the world. Having fascinated audiences all over the globe, Lang Lang, 24, as one of the most celebrated musicians in his generation, never forgets where he comes from.


After more than three years' preparation, the 24-year-old pianist finally succeeded in recording an album of Chinese piano solos, chamber and orchestral music entitled Dragon Songs, which will be released worldwide by Universal Music under the label Deutsche Grammophon in October.


The album was recorded in China earlier this year during Lang Lang's recital tour in China's eight major cities. With a new album and a DVD documentary, he takes people on a musical journey to explore China's diverse musical culture in which he is rooted.


The documentary offers a fascinating look behind the scenes of Lang Lang's latest China tour, from the privacy of his parents' flat (where Lang Lang revisits his very first piano), where viewers are privy to see a Lang-family lunch and a visit to the local temple, to his successful master classes and stage performances. Additionally, this DVD includes a concert of piano solos and chamber music pieces featured on the CD.


Last Thursday, the spiky-haired musician flew from Salzburg Festival to Beijing to introduce Dragon Songs.


"It's a special day for me. I am not here to release CD of Mozart or Beethoven but real Chinese music played by Chinese pianist, Chinese orchestra and Chinese conductor. The music collected in the album is the fruit of generations of Chinese musicians," said the sunny young man in high spirits.


"I have come into the spotlight of the world stage because of my playing of the Western classic music. I wish this album to be a small rocket, letting more and more people know about and enjoy Chinese music and furthermore, know more about China."



Lang Lang is immersed in his music during the lunch of his new album Dragon Songs in Beijing last week.


"Lang Lang is the pride of China and Dragon Songs is a milestone of Chinese music in the classic music," said Hung Tik, managing director of Universal Music (China & Hong Kong), who attended the press conference on Thursday.


"I heard his idea to record a CD of Chinese music when I just joined Universal Music in 2002. It's hard to persuade a classic music label to release a record of all Chinese music, but he finally realized his dream," added Hung, who presented Lang Lang a surprise gift, a calligraphy piece acclaiming Lang Lang's talent written by Jin Yong, the renowned Chinese writer of Wuxia (martial arts ) novels. It is reported that Lang Lang loves Jin Yong's novels very much.


"It's a very exciting time for Chinese music. We need such musician as Lang Lang who knows how to communicate with audience, to show people how to appreciate classic music and also music of his native country. His talent and personality make him an ideal ambassador for classical music and a role model for young people," said James Inverne, editor-in-chief of The Gramophone magazine.


"Lang Lang is one of the most influential Chinese musicians in the world now. His impeccable technique and voracious appetite for the most challenging repertoire empower him to connect with audiences on a deeply personal level," said Yu Long, artistic director and chief conductor of China Philharmonic Orchestra. In Dragon Songs, Lang Lang plays Yellow River Concerto with the orchestra under his baton.


"As the most wanted soloist in all the world's major concert halls, Lang Lang still finds time in his busy schedule to promote Chinese music. He shows his responsibility as a Chinese musician and makes himself the perfect ambassador between the Chinese and Western worlds. Letting more people listen to Chinese music and know about China is a mission very close to his heart," Yu said.


The CD album juxtaposes the Yellow River Concerto, a large-scale, highly virtuosic piano concerto with colorful sound scales, with miniature pieces for piano solo and with chamber pieces, each combining the piano with traditional Chinese instruments such as guzheng, pipa and guanzi.


Though all the pieces were written in the early 20th century, most of them are based on much older sources, merging traditional Chinese melodies and idioms with the Western classical music tradition the result is music of astonishing beauty and ease.


"It's hard to select pieces that connect with each other and at the same time have sense and stories behind them that could make the foreigners understand," Lang Lang said.


When Lang Lang initiated the album, Universal Music did not plan to release it worldwide but rather, only in China.


However, that is not Lang Lang's goal. The pianist is ambitious to bring the Chinese music to the world instead of re-orchestrating these familiar tunes for Chinese listeners.


"So they asked me to bring them a sample to see whether they or the Western listeners could accept the music. To tell the truth, it's hard for foreigners to understand the sense, feelings and poetic atmosphere of Chinese music. The first time I played some pieces for them in Hamburg, some of them fell into sleep," Lang Lang told China Daily.


"In order to help them appreciate the music, I told the stories behind the music, introducing each traditional instrument and trying to improvise this music with the modern Western techniques."


Dragon Songs is just Lang Lang's first step in his quest to bring Chinese music to the world. The pianist will continue to integrate his own heritage and the European music he loves.


He just finished recording the soundtrack of Chinese director Feng Xiaogang's movie The Banquet, which is bidding for next year's Oscar awards. Chinese musician Tan Dun composed the music for the movie, featuring Lang Lang's piano combined with percussion.


"I have heard the sample which sounds very good. Composer Tan uses piano to depict the romantic sense of water, while percussion, which he is an expert of, portrays the fire, the passion," said Lang Lang, who will play more music for the soundtracks of Hollywood movies next year.


(China Daily August 28, 2006)

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