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I met the amazing Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang after he had given a concert at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, in May 2011. I had to lean over the counter at the stage door to get this photo with him.
Lang Lang (pronounced Long Long) was born in 1982, in Shenyang, the fifth largest city in China. His first name is Lang (means 'brightness') and his family name is the same in English
English (Lang) but has a different character in Chinese. His father, Lang Guoren, was a musician, who played the erhu, a traditional, two-stringed Chinese instrument, played with a bow. Under the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), he became a police officer. Lang Lang's mother,
mother, Zhou Xiulan, was once a dancer and singer before becoming both a waitress and a telephone operator.
Lang Guoren with his erhu
Lang Lang as a baby
At the age of two, Lang was watching The Cat Concerto, an Tom and Jerry cartoon which featured Liszt's 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody. He later recalled, "From that
"From that moment, the only thing I wanted to do was to play the piano." Hisfather
His father gave him his first lessons, and his mother taught him to read music.
Tom and Jerry The Cat Concerto
Professor Zhu Ya-Fen gives Lang Lang a piano lesson
Young Lang Lang practising
Lang Lang aged about three
Aged three, he took piano lessons with Professor Zhu Ya-Fen, and so great was Lang'sprog
Lang's progress that, at the age of five, he won first place (against 500 other children) at the Shenyang Piano Competition. Lang's father devised a very strict daily schedule of intensive, endless practice with the aim of making his son the world's Number One pianist.
When Lang Lang was nine, his father resigned from his job, and moved with him to China's capital Beijing, where the boy attended the Central Conservatory of Music. Lang Lang recalls, "I woke every day at 5.00am to practice piano for an hour. Then I went to school until 3.00pm, came home and practised piano for another four hours and then did homework in the evening". Things went wrongwhen
The China Conservatory of Music, Beijing
wrong when Lang Lang's piano teacher decided that the boy lacked talent and expelled him from the Conservatory, but after a letter of recommendation from his first teacher Zhu Ya-Fen, he was taken on by renowned professor of piano Zhao Pingguo. Lang Lang improved by leaps and bounds, winning a piano competition in Germany when he was eleven, and the Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in Japan when he was thirteen. For this he played Chopin's 2nd Piano Concerto with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1996, Lang Lang played all 24 of Chopin's Etudes at Peking's Concert Hall. This led to him appearing as soloist at a televised concert by the China National Symphony Orchestra which was attended by the China's President Jiang.
Lang Lang performing in 1996 aged fourteen
In 1997, fifteen year old Lang Lang moved to Philadelphia in the USA, to study at the Curtis Institute of Music under Gary Graffman. In his first three years there he studied, and learnt, 37 different piano concertos. Lang Lang spoke no English when he arrivedin
Lang Lang with Gary Graffman
arrived in America and found this quite a problem, but gradually picked up the language through his American friends.
friends. His English is now perfect! Whilst studying at the Curtis Institute, Lang Lang entered countless international piano competitions, and winning many of them.
Lang Lang performing in China
Lang Lang's great breakthrough came in 1999, whenhe
when he was seventeen years old. He was called upon to make a dramatic last-minute substitution for the famous pianist Andre Watts to perform in the “Gala Of The Century”, playinga
playing a Tchaikovsky concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He became a star overnight, and the prospect of performing in the world's finest concert halls opened up before him . Since then, he has given hundreds of concerts, manywith
many with the world's leading orchestras and conductors. The New York Times has described him as the "hottest artist on the classical music planet", playing sold-out concerts in every major city in the world.
In 2007, Lang Lang was a guest soloist at the Nobel Prize giving concert in Stockholm, and again for Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo in 2009
Meeting President Obama in Oslo in 2009
Another 'Sold Out'
Lang Lang performs wearing his Adidas 'sneakers'
In 2008, shoe company Adidas joined with Lang Lang to release a black & gold version of their Original Gazelle sneaker, bearing his name (in both English and Chinese) and silhouette image.
On 8th August 2008, Lang Lang performed at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, watched on TV by more than four billion people around the world. He was promoted as a symbol of the youth and future of China. Soon after this, he auctioned off a red Steinway grand piano (one of only two in existence) thathe
that he had recently played in acon
a concert in New York's Central Park. The proceeds went towards aiding China in its earthquake relief efforts. More than $250,000 was raised.
Lang Lang playing his red Steinway in New York
Again in 2008, Lang Lang launched the Lang Lang International Music Foundation aimed at encouraging young children throughout the world to study great classical music. He also became the youngest person appointed as the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
In 2011, Lang Lang Music World was launched in China, to provide children there with lessons, concert-going opportunities and the chance to take part in piano competitions and master classes. The same year, Lang Lang was also awarded an honorary doctorate in music (Hon DMus) from the UK Royal College of Music in London. He is the youngest person (and the first from China) to receive an honorary doctorate from the college. Lang Lang received his award from Prince Charles.
Lang Lang receives his honorary DMus degree
from Prince Charles in May 2011
Recognising Lang Lang's rare talents, Deutsche Grammophon signed him to an exclusive artist recording contract in 2002. His debut CD featured the first piano concertos by both Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. It immediately went to NumberOne
Number One in the classical charts! Lang Lang's second CD was a live recording from New York’sfam
York’s famous Carnegie Hall. Apart from music by Haydn, Liszt, Schubert and Schumann, it also included the Chinese folk song Horses
Horses and a duet with his father Lang Guoren playing the erhu. Over the next decade, his recordings have included the Rachmaninov 2nd pianocon
piano concerto with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, and the Chopin pianoc
Lang Lang with his father Lang Guoren
piano concertos with Zubin Mehta and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 2010, Lang Lang joined Sony Music Entertainment as an exclusive recording artist, and has recorded albums devoted to Liszt & Chopin.
Lang Lang has made a number of appearances at the BBC Proms. His first was in2001
in 2001, when he took a sold-out Royal Albert Hall by storm. "This could be history in the making," wrote the music critic of The Times, after hearing Lang Lang play Rachmaninov's 3rdPiano
Lang Lang performs at the Proms in 2008
3rd Piano Concerto. He returned for the 2003 Proms First Night (performing the 1st Piano Concerto by Tchaikovsky) and the 2006 Proms when he played
Lang Lang performs at the 2008 Proms
Lang Lang performs at the 2011 Proms
played the 1st Piano Concerto by Chopin. In 2008, he playedaran
played a range of solo piano pieces, and also performed a duet (Schubert's Fantasia D940) withanine
with a nine year old Chinese American boy Marc Yu. In 2009, he performed Chopin's 2nd Piano Concerto. September
September 2011 saw Lang Lang again at the Proms, this time at the Last Night playing Liszt's 1st Piano Concerto and Chopin's Grand Polonaise Brillante with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Mark Yu & Lang Lang duet (2008 Proms)
Lang Lang at the Barbican in 2009
Lang Lang carried the Olympic torch through Hornchurch on its Redbridge to Bexley leg of the torch relay on 22nd July 2012. This was his second torch run, as before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, he ran with the torch on the City's Tiananman Square.
Beijing Olympics (2008)
London Olympics (2012)
In 2008, two books about Lang Lang were published. His autobiography A Journey of a Thousand Miles portrays the Chinese music scene as merciless, pressured and full of corruption. It also gives an insight into his relationship with his over-demanding
demanding father whom he sometimes hated as a child, but who now manages his Chinese engagements from his home in Beijing.
Beijing. Lang Lang's mother still travels with him all around thew
the world for his concerts. The other book Lang Lang: Playing with Flying Keys is co-written by Lang Lang and his adapter Michael French. It covers much the same ground as the other book, but it is simple, straightforward, and aimed at younger readers.
Lang Lang's piano technique is formidable. There is absolutely nothing that he can't play, and his stage presence is charismatic. He is amazing to watch in a piece like the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, where his hands are flying everywhere. In quiet, reflective passages, Lang Lang's movements and expressions are totally 'over the top', and often criticised.
Lang Lang currently lives in New York.
Visit Lang Lang's Official Website for everything you need to know about this amazing pianist!
Lang Lang publicity photo
Lang Lang in Chinese characters