Lang Lang

Washington Post Classical Beat

The last few days saw me concluding my public reappraisal of my views on Lang Lang as the pianist finished up his residency with the National Symphony Orchestra with a duo recital with Christoph Eschenbach and a series of Beethoven concerti with the full orchestra. Questioning my own views so extremely — “Here’s my perception; here’s how I react; what if I’m completely wrong?” — was such an intriguing thought exercise that I vowed to try it again with other artists I think I know well. There’s no question that Lang Lang has a distinctive approach, and that it’s not what we’re used to hearing in certain repertory, and that it can seem overdone. But I also noted, this week, how quickly my instinct was to jump to finger-wagging, and how much I did get out of the performances when I folded that wagging finger into a fist and suspended judgment.
There are added factors at play, of course: this was no one-off concert (like the “Evening with Lang Lang” the NSO offered in 2009), but a week-long residency with Eschenbach, whom Lang Lang has called a musical father. It makes sense that Washington saw his best side. In any case, the week had a lot of rewards for me, and evidently for many of the people who filled the halls for his performances. And the passion of the debates I’ve seen in the wake of the performances, between those pro and con, is something I wish we had more of in this field; I love it that so many people are listening and talking and thinking, from those who call him “Bang Bang” to those who love him (and I’ve been on both sides of that equation). It amuses me to realize, looking back over my past reviews of him, how much I’ve struggled with myself almost every time I’ve heard him.