Lang Lang

Lang Lang Overcomes Perils of Popularity

A weekend to remember!
 
Pianist Lang Lang took one curtain call after another at Symphony Hall to tremendous applause and adulation on Sunday afternoon, October 30. After the final piece on the program, three young admirers walked down center aisle to present the piano star with bouquets of colorful flowers. As he headed for the wings, Lang Lang placed one of the bouquets on the piano and applauded it. Was it for that little toy dog that he won as consolation prize when he was seven, the dog he kept on his piano, first hating it, then coming to love it after days upon days of practicing? The 29-year-old concert pianist told this story at a master class at Sanders Theatre the day before, in answer to a question about the facing failure in his life.
 
Instructive and entertaining, the master class was unbeatable, one of the most awe-inspiring experiences discovering so many secrets of piano performance in but just one afternoon. Remember the Young People’s Concerts with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic? Saturday’s session was at the very least equal to any one of those fabulously engrossing encounters witnessed decades ago, before TV. See my BMInt report here.
 
After this weekend of Lang Lang, how many more voices will continue to be added to an already enthusiastic chorus of admirers of this pianist extraordinaire, now very probably numbering in the millions? In his introduction, President Gary Dunning of The Celebrity Series of Boston, which put on this concert, noted, “He’s not a stranger to Boston — if he’s a stranger to anyone.” (Lang Lang’s appearance was sponsored by Eleanor and Frank Pao.)
 
Even past three-o’clock, fans were still taking their seats, so it was not altogether quiet for the start of the Praeludium from J. S. Bach’s Partita No.1 in B-flat Major BWV 825. Nor did it really quiet down throughout the Bach, making it a bit difficult to get wrapped up in Lang Lang’s individualistic performance. I was not truly able to succumb to his playing until the third movement, Corrente, and that was still somewhat problematic, with a seaside-like whoosh of shuffling, adjusting, coughing, and the like beginning to subside all about the hall.
 
In the early movements, especially in the Praeludium, all too obvious, even intrusive, deliveries of contrapuntal imitations disrupted flow ringing out, as if to quiet down that Symphony Hall surf sound. However, in both Minuets I and II and the Gigue, the last movements, it seemed to me that Lang Lang, himself, settled in. The Gigue in particular, under his fingers, fanned out into a crescendo and decrescendo during the first section. The shape was unusual, spare, brilliant. No more was needed.
 
The first movement of the Schubert Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960 lasted twenty minutes and also showed a penchant for the obvious. But in the slow movement, Andante sostenuto, Lang Lang drew upon remarkably hushed pianism springing a haunting remoteness, a Romantic prolongation of introspection, rumination that strangely transported. The outer sections were intense, not for their fierceness, but like the white heat of burning coals: they don’t look hot, but don’t dare touch them! The final movements of the Schubert found clear articulation, if not a bit of an overreach.
 
After intermission, Lang Lang’s playing of the Chopin 12 Etudes Op. 25 astounded. What he said about rubato in Saturday’s master class — “when you take time away you must give it back” — became a virtuosic maze of centering under his extraordinary hands. Fierceness and tenderness and pianistic action figured in on an astonishing multitude of levels. Power and delicacy probably reached at least quadruple forte and quadruple piano. Incomparable!
 
And there was more: two Liszt encores, a suave and ear-melting Romance in e minor and a virtuosic beast of a blockbuster, La Campanella, over which the audience went wild.