World-renowned pianist Lang Lang has been called the “hottest artist on the classical music planet” by The New York Times. Meet Lang Lang on Arizona Horizon.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight, we talk to two major figures in the world of classical music. Concert pianist Lang Lang has been called the hottest artist on the classical music planet by the "New York Times." I recently talked to Lang Lang about his music.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Lang Lang: Thank you.
Ted Simons: You are a big deal in the classical music -- before we get to all of that business, you've been to Arizona before?
Lang Lang: Yes, this is my sixth time here.
Ted Simons: Sixth time, what do you think?
Lang Lang: It's very nice and hot.
Ted Simons: Ok. And had a chance to see the scenery much? I wonder about concert artists, do you just go to a town and stay in a hotel and perform and go back to the hotel? How much do you get around?
Lang Lang: I remember my first time being here was 2001. And, and I still remember, I came with my father, we were, we were prepared, a Chinese box before the concert. And we would take out from, from the phrase, so, it's cold, so we put on the street, so five minutes later we had a nice dinner.
Ted Simons: There you go, boiling the egg on, frying the egg on the sidewalk here. I have got to ask you before we get to what you are doing now, I want to know, because you were a, you were a Prodigy. You started very young, but you started, you were inspired by a cartoon. A Tom and Jerry cartoon? Talk to us about that.
Lang Lang: I was 2 and a half years, and my parent bought me a piano, but that was when I was one-year-old. So, I was watching one of my favorite cartoons. Tom and Jerry. And as you know, there is an episode called the Cat's Concerto. So Tom, tuxedo, and nice tie and started playing the piano. And that was my first inspiration. I would look at their big concert grand piano, and I would look at my little opera piano, and I thought that's the father, and that's the son. I started playing. My first, my first tryout.
Ted Simons: Was it something -- how, how old were you when you felt, I mean, because a kid is a kid and an adult kind of feels the music differently, but when did you feel that music as part of you?
Lang Lang: I would say, when I performed first time, I was five years old.
Ted Simons: Five.
Lang Lang: And I played Chopin waltz, and the stage light, like now, very warm. And also, after playing, I got a flower from a little girl. I thought that was cool.
Ted Simons: Five years old already.
Lang Lang: And when you were, when you start so young, and you were good so young, and people are watching you, did you feel pressure at all?
Lang Lang: I mean. I must say, it was not always, you know, very lucky. When I was seven, I join the competition, and which I got lost, so I was like not, not even number 7. So, I got a consolation prize. A little toy, but I think that that was, actually, encouraged me the most from so many years. So, when we were not so good, it makes you try to work harder.
Ted Simons: And you did work harder, and you did, obviously, move up. It seems as though you connect with the audience in ways that might be a little different than other artists. Do you feel it? Do you feel when you are connecting with the audience?
Lang Lang: Well, I would say no matter whether you are a pop star, whether you are a jazz musician, or a classical musician, in the end, we need to be moved by the music, and we need to be totally connected with our heart, and our soul, to, to the composition that we are playing. And sometimes, I felt that, that you are going to a concert, and everything was very perfect. But, somehow, the soul, the heart is not there. And I think that, it's very important, when the audience, or the musicians listen to another performance. What they like to hear is, is your sincere, your sincerity. And that, you know, totally concentrated breach between your heart and the keyboard.
Ted Simons: When you have your heart and your keyboard bridged like that, how do you know that there is another bridge going out to that audience? How do you know that they are with you?
Lang Lang: Actually, you know, the things, when you start thinking about, about that, then, it becomes artificial. You feel like, look at me, look. Then, it's not good. I need to be totally sincere. So, the thing is when you, you are moved by the music, and yourself, then you have a chance to move to other people.
Ted Simons: It's interesting you mention that because some critics of your style say that you are too flamboyant. You are too showy. First of all, respond to that, and what is the difference between having a flair and having that connection and being too showy?
Lang Lang: There are a lot of different kind of repertoires. Tomorrow, we will play a piece, the Piano Hunter, and that is absolutely, you know, you need to be, you know, to not show off, but to give all your abilities, you know, to take it out but sometimes, when you play, really, incredible music, by Beethoven. Slow movement. Adagio. By Brahams, and that time everything has become the heart, and the intellectual power, rather than, you know, the technique part. So, it depends on the pieces. It's almost like a great actor. You need to be capable in playing different roles.
Ted Simons: Do you find yourself, as you age, handling that, that differently? Are you different now than you were ten years ago in terms of the persona onstage?
Lang Lang: It's a bit easier to come down a bit when you are getting certain, certain level of playing, and certain, certain maturity. But, I mean, the freshness of what you call it, the instincts, shouldn't change because if your instinct changes it's not good.
Ted Simons: Yeah. Do you find as you age, that, that certain pieces of music, when you were younger, affected you this way? Now they affect you that way?
Lang Lang: Yeah, for example, the piece, I played ten years ago, even the piece I play tomorrow, it's slightly different because after ten years, you learn a lot of new things, and those new ideas gave you another way, another alternative way to play the piece. So, it's, it's -- sometimes it's hard to know, which one is better, but certainly it's a different, a different input.
Ted Simons: And you don't really care about which one is better per se, you just care about what you are feeling in the moment, correct?
Lang Lang: There are certain, you know, frame of the work you need to follow, you know. The instruction of the scores, obviously. But, after that, you need to free yourself, you know, and to put some, you know, personal ideas on top of the original scores. And, and the interesting thing is that, when you hear the composers playing their piece, you see very kind of interesting input on top of the score. So, you will know that they gave you the room to do it.
Lang Lang: As far as getting young people involved, in this type of music, how do you keep their attention? How do you get that spark because there is, between computers and the TV, and the smart phones and the this and that, there is so much going on, so much of it is pop, quick, fast, how do you get them to figure out that adagio is really something special.
Lang Lang: Obviously, you don't start with that.
Ted Simons: Ok.
Lang Lang: That's a great suggestion because today our world becomes so fast and multiple, what do you call. But in music, you know, when you think about a good performance, it's like a multi-media platform. The only way to listen to music, is, is the year, right, but, then, you also, you know, when the music comes in, into your ear, comes into your brain, it needs to be vertical and it cannot just be flat. So, you need to see the characters. You need to see the messages. You need to see the colors. You need to see the structure, the beauty, and the dynamics. So, I think everything need to be multiples. So, in the way, that, that, you know, this time of the year, when I'm talking about, music, to kids, we have, you know, we use smart phones. We use whatever pad, and we start physically playing together, talking is good but it's more like a music class, but what we want is to, is to get people playing together.
Ted Simons: That's for kids, let's talk about older kids, about adults here who still find classical music intimidating and they don't know what they are missing. It sounds kind of nice, but there are people -- you are putting your heart and soul into that, and they are trying to figure out, what are they missing? How do you tell someone, this is what you need to do to appreciate classical music?
Lang Lang: I think they just need to go to more concerts. And maybe to see a good concert.
Ted Simons: That's a good idea. Maybe not try so hard?
Lang Lang: Not try too hard, but to, you know, to maybe go to YouTube, you know, just find some videos of, you know is, great musicians perform. People like Yo-Yo Ma, and like Leonard Bernstein, and get a shorter clip, and then I think it's very automatically, you know. They just feel it, and when you feel it, everything opens.
Ted Simons: Yes.
Lang Lang: And sometimes there is some kind of a, maybe paper in front of you, but if you kind of pass, you know, if it breaks through, then, everything kind of comes.
Ted Simons: And then you buy every Lang Lang c.d. and you can't stop playing them. You played for the opening ceremonies at the Olympics, the 2008 Olympics there in China. What was that like?
Lang Lang: It was a gigantic stage, and I was playing with this little girl, who is like five years old at the time. And I was like a baby-sitter. And you know, please, don't run, you know. There is a lot of people watching you now. Just let's play together, and having fun, and then after five minutes, I couldn't find her. I was so scared, you know.
Ted Simons: Where did she go?
Lang Lang: She ran.
Ted Simons: She ran somewhere. But, did you -- again, we talked about pressure when you were younger. On a situation like that, you are kind of -- you are representing China, and in many ways you represent China, in terms of the arts, in terms of the growth of the country. Where the country's future is headed. Do you feel pressure there?
Lang Lang: Not really. Just do my best to perform and be a cultural ambassador.
Ted Simons: So you don't feel like you are a symbol of China's growth and China's changing image on the stage?
Lang Lang: I am happy there. I am, I have become a, kind of a global citizen, and you know and, and to, to kind of, to share, you know, what our generation is thinking about, to the future. And I think it's, it's -- on this generation, you need to be a very open generation to where, to the global, as one image, and I think, you know, as a musician, that's probably one of the best things that, that we are communicators, and through a piece, you don't need to know the culture, but you understood what, what they were talking about.
Ted Simons: And what is your -- not necessarily to play, but when you just want to listen to the epitome of classical music, what do you listen to?
Lang Lang: I love to listen to modern symphonies, and I love to learn, you know, actually, I love jazz. And --
Ted Simons: Do you?
Lang Lang: My favorite artist is Kirby Hancock.
Ted Simons: You played with Kirby Hancock.
Lang Lang: He caught me a lot of great tricks.
Ted Simons: Isn't that something. Isn't that -- and hit hunters is one of those old albums. It was a pleasure having you here. Thank you very much for joining us. Good luck with the concert tomorrow, and good to have you back in Arizona.
Lang Lang: Thank you, Ted.
Ted Simons: Thank you.
Lang Lang:World-Renowned Pianist;