One of the biggest sensations in classical music today is Chinese pianist Lang Lang. He came to love the piano in a surprising way. When he was barely more than a toddler, he became obsessed with a Tom & Jerry cartoon in which Tom the cat pounds out a Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt, with paws flying in all directions. Lang Lang wanted to play as fast as that cat could. Now at age 24, Lang Lang still likes to play the piece.
Lang Lang got his big break in 1999. He was 17 when he was asked to fill in at the last minute for veteran pianist Andre Watts. The unknown Chinese teenager played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It was a performance grand enough to launch his career.
Since then, Lang Lang has conquered the classical world with dazzling technique and charisma. Sometimes, as his fingers plunge into the final chord, he leaps to his feet. Some critics wonder whether he's overdoing it — but audiences go wild.
And now Lang Lang is out to conquer Beethoven. His first ever Beethoven record, The Piano Concertos 1 & 4, is released today. The music is virtuosic, but it requires more than just muscle. It's an intricate give-and-take between piano and orchestra.
Lang Lang's concert calendar is booked through 2010, he has a major record contract (rare in the world of classical music), and he practices on an old piano that once belonged to his idol, Vladimir Horowitz. Not bad for a career that started with a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
Related NPR Stories:
- Lang Lang's site
- Piano Phenom Lang Lang Performs Mozart, Liszt
- Chinese Pianist Lang Lang, Classical Music's Young Lion
Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.
REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
Meanwhile, a different kind of bow is catching on in China, the kind used in Western classical music. One hundred forty-two factories turn out musical instruments there, and more than 40 million Chinese kids are studying classical violin and piano.
A few years ago, one of those piano students was Lang Lang. That's L-A-N-G, L-A-N-G , but pronounced long, long. Now, he's a professional and a big sensation in classical music. He's known for his fast fingers. He was inspired to master piano, he says by a "Tom & Jerry" cartoon - the one where Tom the cat pounds out a Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt, with paws flying in all directions. Today, Lang Lang still plays it.
(Soundbite of "Hungarian Rhapsody")
ROBERTS: Lang Lang got his big break in 1999. He was just 17 when he got a phone call asking if he could fill in for veteran pianist Andre Watts. His performance was grand enough to launch his career. Since then, Lang Lang has impressed the classical world with his dazzling technique and charisma.
Sometimes, as his fingers plunge to the final chord, he leaps to his feet. Critics wonder if he might be overdoing it, but audiences go wild.
(Soundbite of piano music)
(Soundbite of applause)
ROBERTS: Now that Lang Lang is beyond his whiz kid years, he says fast fingers are important, but technique isn't all that matters.
Mr. LANG LANG (Pianist): The main focus is on the hands and the notes, but then, you know, after you're sets on the keys, you need to using your imagination not just to make up things, but I think, in order to play piano you need to have a creative mind.
ROBERTS: Lang Lang continues to stretch. Today, he releases his first Beethoven CD, "The Piano Concertos 1 & 4," an intricate give-and-take between piano and orchestra.
(Soundbite of "Piano Concertos 1 & 4")
ROBERTS: Lang Lang's concert calendar is booked through 2010, he has a major record contract - rare in the world of classical music - and he practices on an old piano that once belonged to his idol, Vladimir Horowitz. Not bad for a career that started with a "Tom & Jerry" cartoon.
To hear Lang Lang in concert and also in our studios, go to npr.org/music.
(Soundbite of piano music)
ROBERTS: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.