Lang Lang out to inspire youth, aiming for the Oscars
Published Friday, November 11, 2011 1:01PM EST
At the ripe old age of 29, Chinese pianist Lang Lang has been named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He's dressed exclusively by Versace and has an Adidas sneaker named after him. The phenom performer with the hip, spiked hair also has millions of fans and a recording deal with Sony reportedly worth $3 million.
Such achievements are a rarity for one so young. But Lang says he isn't resting on any laurels.
"I think, next, I'd like to perform on the Oscars. It would be an incredible experience. I'd be very honoured," Lang mused before his live performance with 13-year-old Canadian pianist, Annie Zhou, on Friday on Canada AM.
Such an Oscar date, should it ever come, would be fitting.
"When I perform it's like a movie playing in my head," said Lang.
"It's different for every piece that I play. But it's like this multi-media moment. Pictures flash in my mind. There's the story line of the music and all the emotions it inspires in me on stage. It's like my own movie going on inside," he said.
For now, however, Lang is acquiring honours of a different sort by giving back to young musicians.
The pianist launched the Lang Lang International Music Foundation for young musicians in 2009. He's also busy trying to increase the number of music teachers in China.
"We've got 40 million kids studying piano and 90 million learning some kind of instrument. We need more teachers. The more the better," said Lang.
But most recently, Lang has travelled to Toronto to mentor 100 of Canada's most promising young pianists.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is hosting Lang in an unprecedented two-week residency -- his first in North America -- from Nov. 9 to 19.
During this time, Lang will perform all five of Beethoven's Piano Concerti in 10 days. It's the first time the artist has performed all of Beethoven's concerti in such a concentrated time span.
But educating young musicians remains the real focus for this co-production between the TSO and Lang's Foundation.
Lang will participate in three of the TSO's Student Concerts, conducted by TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian. Lang will also share Roy Thomson's Hall stage will 100 students as they workshop and perform Franz Schubert's "Marche Militaire."
In many ways, Lang is the perfect disciple for this new generation.
Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media are second nature to Lang.
"It's a great bridge for us in society. It brings audiences together. But you still need to perform. Social media can't change that face of life for any musician," said Lang.
Lang's exuberant clothing and performance style also holds great appeal for young fans.
"I'm 29. I live like I'm 29," Lang said on Canada AM.
These qualities, coupled with Lang's great technical skills, are a big sell to a new generation of classical pianists. Yet this isn't the whole story.
"In order to bring classical music to our new generation we have to inspire them. We have to give them passion," said Lang.
"Doing ‘100 Pianists' has been a great honour for me and a lot of fun. But I want these kids to remember that they have to keep that passion, no matter what," he said.
Thanks to his tough, authoritarian father, Lang has learned about the kind passion that can sustain an artist through good times and bad.
Lang's own musical upbringing was detailed in his 2008 autobiography, "Journey of a Thousand Miles."
He was born in the industrial town of Shenyang to parents whose own musical ambitions were thwarted by the Cultural Revolution.
At the age of nine, Lang was separated from his mother and whisked off to Beijing by his father, a man whose unforgiving disciplinary methods would make Amy Chua (author of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother") look like a cream puff.
Determined to see his son become the "number one" pianist in the world, the elder Lang forced his boy to practice hours upon hours a day, accepting nothing less than perfection.
He even encouraged his son to commit suicide after he was rejected by a piano teacher.
That treatment might seem harsh by today's standards. But Lang holds no grudges.
"The early '80s in China were very different than today," said Lang.
"We were poor. My family's future depended on my becoming a concert pianist," he said.
"If things were reversed and I was in my father's shoes, I'd take the good parts that he taught me and change the things that didn't. But one thing my father was amazing at was passion and discipline. He gave me that. That I will keep for sure."