Lang Lang

Lang Lang Wows Ravinia At CSO Opening Night

World renowned pianist Lang Lang was simultaneously fused to his music and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the symphony’s opening night Thursday at Ravinia Festival.
Opening in a nearly full Pavilion with Frederic Chopin’s Adante spinato and Grande polonaise brillante and then playing Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1, the 29-year-old Lang performed like he owned the pieces as he has for the last 12 Ravinia seasons.
“He was at one with the music,” David Goldstein of Denver said. “He just passed from one note to another.”
“His hands are like butterflies,” added Jamie Buzil, explaining why she quickly stood with most of the audience for a standing ovation after Lang finished playing.
Ravinia’s stage propelled Lang to stardom in 1999 under the direction of then Music Director Eschenbach, who directed Thursday's performance. Andre Watts was scheduled to play Peter Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Watts was ill and the 17-year-old Lang was the last minute replacement.
Paul Earle of Riverwoods, a long time Ravinia subscriber, was there in 1999 and again Thursday to hear Lang once more.
“They made the announcement just as the concert started and I thought, ‘Oh God what are we in for,” Earle said. “He was brilliant at every turn. His music was a real gem.”
For those who want to compare Lang and Watts playing Liszt, Watts will perform the German master’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Chicago Symphony at 8 p.m. tonight also under Eschenbach direction.
Lang’s hands were all over the piano as he tamed a very difficult Liszt piece. The notes flowed as Lang’s hands crossed one over the other, climbing again and again from bass notes to a high treble clef.
The third movement began with soft chirping from a triangle with an answer from Lang’s piano. This is where he showed an oneness with both Liszt and the orchestra, as well as some showmanship not unnoticed by the audience.
“There was a woman playing a triangle and [Lang] noticed her,” John Burrell of Highland Park said. “Each time she played it he looked at her and responded.”
Earle was impressed by Lang’s growth over the years through his difficult music choices. Earle is the son of an opera singer who grew up both at Ravinia and surrounded by music at home.
“This time he mastered the difficulty of Liszt,” Earle said, describing the growth he has seen in Lang’s performance over 12 Ravinia seasons. “No one wrote more challenging piano music than Liszt.”
When he finished both the Chopin and Liszt pieces, a chorus of “bravo” was heard from the audience, followed by thunderous applause as a wave of people stood to show their approval.
“This was a once in a lifetime experience,” Susan Carter Melman of Highland Park said. “This is a rare moment in one’s life.”
After three curtain calls, Lang played an encore before returning twice more at the audience’s beckoning.
“He is wonderful. He is a man complete with his music,” Lili Li of China said. “His energy and exuberance make him able to tell a story with his music.”
Li was in Chicago on business with seven of her countrymen. They had the opportunity to meet Lang personally after the concert.
The evening concluded as Eschenbach and the Chicago Symphony gave a performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique that literally took the audience on the composer’s journey of romance and love.
What many thought was Berlioz’s ode to an idealized woman with the pain and pleasure of love turned out to end in marriage for the composer, according to Ravinia’s program notes.
The final movement, Dreams of a Witches Sabbath, was not lost on Cindy Burrell of Highland Park.
“You could hear the witches,” Cindy Burrell said. “You could see their fingers moving.”
Cindy’s husband, John, saw a bigger picture with a piece made for the Chicago Symphony.
“This is a large piece that needs a lot of attention,” John Burrell said. “It is perfect for this orchestra.”
Before Lang took the stage to wow the crowd, Eschenbach continued another opening night tradition when he led the orchestra in the Star Spangled Banner.
The crowd responded by turning into a chorus.