Like all other areas of 21st century culture, the classical music industry is obsessed with finding young superstars they can promote as the great hope of the future. Lang Lang is one of the new generation of wunderkinds.
The 22-year-old pianist was born in Shenyang, the fifth largest city in China, and began piano lessons at three. More remarkably he gave his first recital two years later at the tender age of five. He went on to study at the Central Music Conservatory in Beijing and by the time he was 17 he had won a slew of awards at international piano competitions and was so famous in China that he was already the subject of a full-length biography.
He has been championed in the west by Daniel Barenboim, with whom he recorded his first CD. Lang Lang’s finely crafted and powerful version of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto will offer something new even to those who think they know it well. His version of the very different Mendelssohn first concerto, which has been a signature concert piece for the young performer, is played with great affection and strength. What can too easily seem like a well-crafted show piece is here given a very exciting and engaging reading.
In November last year he crossed another musical threshold when at 21 he gave his first solo recital at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. Although many of the reviews of the concert were rapturous, some of the reviews of the new CD version of the concert haven’t been as kind. Other commentators have suggested this is all part of a cut-the-young-star-down reaction to early trumpeting.
There are certainly some magnificent moments on the new CD like the great rendition of Schubert’s Wander Fantasy and his choices are eclectic with everything from Haydn to Tan Dun. What definitely comes over is the way he enthusiastically drives the music forward. This is youthful playing in the best sense.
Sydney audiences will have a unique chance to judge Lang Lang for themselves when he performs Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra next week. This is bound to be an exciting concert and not one I intend to miss.
Lang Lang performs with the Sydney Symphony 19-24 August. Info and bookings: 9334 4610.