The evening of Sunday, October 14th, international music star Lang Lang came to the 92nd street Y to talk about his music, career, life, and future. He also stuck around to sign copies of his newest album, The Chopin Album. With him as moderator was Sir Howard Stringer, the chairman of the Board of Directors of Sony, the company Lang Lang is signed to. The talk was interesting mainly because of the insight provided into the struggle that Lang Lang –and perhaps more widely all musicians– go through.
The show provided an inspirational window into Lang Lang’s rise. He was born in Liaoning, China, to a musical family. His father played the er hu, a traditional Chinese instrument, and his mother was a dancer. During the Cultural Revolution those arts were suppressed and his father and mother were prevented from expressing themselves. Lang Lang’s career was thus heavily influenced by his parents’ dreams and he got into piano at a young age. In fact, he practiced 5-6 hours a day as a child. He told an anecdote that both tickles the audience and gives them pause: when his father found out he was neglecting the piano because of his love of transformer toys, the toys went straight out the window. It’s not hard to imagine how difficult it is for a child, whose natural instinct is enjoyment, to devote all of his efforts to the piano. But Lang Lang managed it, and, as they say, the rest is history. I should mention that Lang Lang does love playing the piano and has created a charity that introduces young children to the beauty of classical music, though probably in a less extreme fashion than his father did.
Sir Howard Stringer did a masterful job of directing the conversation. He guided the interview through Lang Lang’s timeline and made sure there were just enough little stories to illustrate, but not too many to the point where focus was lost. The conversation was speckled with bits of Lang Lang getting up to play the piano. These segments started with a few tinkles of the Hungarian Rhapsody’s theme (one of the first pieces he played as a child) gingerly pecked out on the keyboard, and finished with a fully fleshed-out Chopin Nocturne. It is an intimate view of an artist’s fight that is at once a testament to human achievement and evidence of how hard it is to succeed.
I enjoyed Lang Lang in Conversation immensely; it was a great opportunity to get to know Lang Lang as a person as well as an artist.