If one word applies to Lang Lang, to the musician, to the man, to his worldview, to those who come into contact with him, it is “inspiration”. It resounds like a musical motif through his life and career. He inspires millions with his open-hearted, emotive playing, whether it be in intimate recitals or on the grandest of stages – such as the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where more than four billion people around the world viewed his performance, the Last Night of the Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall, or the Liszt 200th birthday concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Charles Dutoit which was broadcast live in more than 300 movie theaters around the United States and 200 cinemas across Europe (the first classical music cinemacast to be headlined by a solo artist). He forms enduring musical partnerships with the world’s greatest artists, from conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Gustavo Dudamel and Sir Simon Rattle, to artists from outside of classical music – among them dubstep dancer Marquese “nonstop” Scott, king of the crooners Julio Inglesias and jazz titan Herbie Hancock. He even builds relationships with corporations who will help him get classical music to ever-more people - thanks to his Sony ambassadorship, for instance, he brought Prokofiev’s 7th Piano Sonata to the soundtrack of the multi-million- selling computer game Gran Turismo 5! And he builds cultural bridges between East and West, frequently introducing Chinese music to Western audiences, and vice versa.
Yet he never forgets what first inspired, and continues to inspire, him. Great artists like Rubinstein and Horowitz, with whom he now performs, above all the great composers – Liszt, Chopin and the others – whose music he now delights in bringing to others. Even that famous old Tom and Jerry cartoon “The Cat Concerto” which introduced him, as a delighted child, to the music of Liszt – and that childlike excitement at the discovery of music now surely stays with him and propels him to what he calls “his second career”, bringing music into the lives of children around the world, both through his work for charities such as UNICEF and through his own Lang Lang International Music Foundation. As he inspires, he is inspired. As he is inspired, he inspires others. It is this quality, perhaps, that led the New Yorker to call him “the world’s ambassador of the keyboard”.
It takes a special kind of dedication to come from a small Chinese town Shenyang , to travel to the big city as a small child and to win the attention of the country’s finest music professors. And then to leave behind your home country altogether to join the world-famous Curtis Institute of Music Philadelphia, USA. Lang Lang achieved all of these early on – he started playing piano aged three, won the Shenyang Competition and gave his first public recital by the time he was five, entered Beijing’s Central Music Conservatory aged nine, won first prize at the Tchaikovsky International Young Musicians’ Competition and playing the complete Chopin Etudes at the Beijing Concert Hall at 13. He left for America, Curtis and the great piano teacher Gary Graffman and when his moment came, he was ready. That moment happened when, aged 17, he was called upon to make a dramatic last-minute substitution for the famous Andre Watts to perform in the “Gala Of The Century”, playing a Tchaikovsky concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It made him what journalists like to call an “overnight star” and the world’s finest concert halls quickly beckoned.
Today, his resume reads like a bestseller (and indeed his biography, Journey of a Thousand Miles, has been published by Random House in eleven languages, and was released to critical acclaim – and as part of his commitment to the education of children, he released a version specifically for younger readers, entitled Playing with Flying Keys). He has been heralded as the “hottest artist on the classical music planet” by the New York Times, has played sold out concerts in every major city in the world and is the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic orchestras.
Time Magazine has recently included Lang Lang in the “Time 100”, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, naming him as a symbol of the youth of China, and its future. Lang Lang is the cultural ambassador of the cities of Shenzhen and Shenyang. In July 2012 he relayed the London Olympic torch in London just before the opening of the XXX Olympiad.
And if the Chinese passion for piano isn’t solely due to him, he has played no small part as a role model to encourage more than 40 million Chinese children to learn to play the instrument – a phenomenon coined by The Today Show as "the Lang Lang effect." Steinway Pianos, for the first time in their century-and-a-half-long history, named a piano model after a single artist when they introduced “The Lang Lang Piano” to China. That piano, specially designed for early music education, is now on its fifth iteration.
And the child Lang Lang was and who, perhaps, is always with him, would surely have approved of the way he gives back to children around the world. His volunteer activities include mentoring rising young talented pianists, convening 100 piano students at a time in concert, performing for sick children in hospi¬tals, delivering classical music recitals in underserved and remote communities, and donating his musical talents to raise awareness of other charitable causes. These charitable efforts have led to the launch of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, with its goals of cultivating tomorrow’s top pianists, championing music education at the forefront of technology, and building a young audience through live music experiences. The Financial Times described Lang Lang as “evangelical in his efforts to spread the popularity of classical music.” And in May 2009, Lang Lang and three chosen young scholars from the foundation – aged between 6 and 10 years old – performed together on The Oprah Winfrey Show on "Oprah's Search for the World's Most Smartest and Most Talented Kids."
In 2011, Lang Lang Music World was launched, a multi-functioning arts complex located in Shenzhen and Chongqing, China, where children can go to receive piano education, participate in master classes and competitions, attend concerts and purchase educational products. Lang Lang himself continues to give master classes regularly throughout the world at the invitation of the most prestigious music institutions, including the Curtis Institute of Music, Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music and Hanover Conservatory, as well as all the top conservatories in China where he holds honorary professorships. Elite universities such as Oxford, Harvard and Columbia have invited him to give talks.
Lang Lang enjoys reaching audiences of all sizes and few come bigger than that of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, of which Lang Lang was the first official Ambassador – a role, created by YouTube and Google that combined two of his great loves, music and outreach through technology. More traditionally, tens of thousands of people have enjoyed Lang Lang’s performances in open-air concerts in parks and venues around the globe, including Central Park in New York City, Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Ravinia Festival in Chicago, Theaterplatz in Dresden and Derby Park in Hamburg. Lang Lang participated in the opening concert at Munich's Olympic Stadium with Mariss Jansons, marking the commencement of the World Cup Games. In celebratory concerts for the closing of 2008 Euro Cup finals, Lang Lang played with the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Zubin Mehta in front of Schönbrunn Palace. And he marked the New Year’s Eve gala opening of the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing with another great conductor, Seiji Ozawa.
In December 2007, Lang Lang was guest soloist at the Nobel Prize concert in Stockholm, an event attended by Nobel Laureates and members of the Royal Family. He returned as soloist for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony and concert for President Barack Obama.
Lang Lang has made numerous TV appearances, including The Today Show, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America, CBS Early Show, 60 Minutes, Wetten Dass and El Número Uno among many others. He has been featured on every major TV network and in news and lifestyle magazines worldwide, including such diverse publications as The New Yorker, Esquire, Vogue, The Times, Financial Times, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Die Welt, Reader’s Digest and People.
As well as President Obama, Lang Lang has performed for numerous international dignitaries including the former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, former President Hu Jin-Tao of China, President Horst Koehler of Germany, H.R.H. Prince Charles, Russian President Vladimir Putin, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Holland Queen Beatrix and Crown Prince Williem-Alexander and Poland President Lech Kaczynski. Of many landmark events, he was honored to perform recently for President Barack Obama and former President Hu Jin-Tao at the White House State Dinner, as well as at the Diamond Jubilee celebratory concert for Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
Wherever he can, Lang Lang tries to give back. In 2004, he was appointed International Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Lang Lang has contributed and worked to raise funds and awareness for earthquake relief efforts in China and Haiti. These efforts included auctioning the red Steinway piano played during his 2008 New York Central Park concert, donating the net proceeds to the American Red Cross China Earthquake fund, and organizing a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, donating the net proceeds to UNICEF’s Earthquake Relief Fund in Haiti. As Chairman of the Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award Project, Lang Lang celebrates another aspect of arts commitment. He also currently serves on the Weill Music Institute Advisory Committee as part of Carnegie Hall’s educational program and is the youngest member of Carnegie Hall’s Artistic Advisory Board.
Honors include being added as one of the 250 Young Global Leaders picked by the World Economic Forum and receiving the 2010 Crystal Award in Davos. In May 2011, Lang Lang received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales at the Royal College of Music, and received his second Honorary Doctorate in Musical Arts at the Manhattan School of Music in May 2012. In December 2011, he was honored the highest prize awarded by the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China. More recently, he has received the highest German civilian honor, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, in recognition of his distinguished services to music and, in January 2013, he was presented with the Medal of the Order of Arts and Letters, by the French Minister of Culture.
He is one of the world’s most prolific and highest-profile recording artists. Featured soloist on the Golden Globe® winning score for the film The Painted Veil, composed by Alexandre Desplat, he can also be heard on the soundtracks of The Banquet, composed by Tan Dun, and of My Week With Marilyn. All of his albums have entered the top classical charts as well as many pop charts around the globe. His album of the First and Fourth Beethoven Piano concertos with L’Orchestre de Paris and Maestro Christoph Eschenbach debuted at number one on the Classical Billboard Chart. Lang Lang also appeared on Billboard’s New Artist chart at the highest-ever position for a classical artist. In 2007, he was nominated for a Grammy® Award, becoming the first Chinese artist to be nominated for Best Instrumental Soloist. He has recently recorded the movie soundtrack for the Japanese blockbuster film Nodame Cantabile, Chopin’s 24 Etudes for “Project Chopin” (the largest project in honor of Chopin’s bicentenary) ,“Nuit De Mai” with Placido Domingo and, of course, that opening sequence for Gran Turismo, the most successful videogame to date.
In February 2010, Lang Lang joined Sony Music Entertainment as an exclusive recording artist; his first album with Sony featured a live recording of his 2010 recital at Vienna’s legendary Musikverein (including a segment filmed in 3D). His next CD, “Liszt, My Piano Hero” and DVD “Liszt, Now!” celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the great composer, while 2012 saw the release of “The Chopin Album”.