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On the Aisle



Lang Lang At Carnegie Hall: A Star is Born

By Philip Anson / April 26, 2001
On the Aisle

Lang Lang: A Star is Born
Lang Lang, piano
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Carnegie Hall
April 26, 2001

It has been a long time since one felt the thrill of discovering a new performer who promises to enrich the music scene for years to come. Last night at Carnegie Hall one had that experience. The 18-year old Chinese-born pianist Lang Lang is hardly an unknown quantity. He made his US debut in 1998 with the Baltimore Symphony, and his big break came in 1999 when he replaced André Watts at the Ravinia Festival. In the last two years he has played with most of the best US orchestras, and his first CD was released last month on Telarc, who signed him up exclusively (though it is only a matter of time before the majors lure him away). Not since the advent of Evgeny Kissin has the piano world been in such a tizzy of excitement. Last night Lang Lang made his New York debut playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony, and the prognostications were fulfilled. This is a dynamite pianist.

Lang Lang is being called prodigy and Wunderkind, but please recall, he is 18, not 13, at which tender age Kissin and other true prodigies were playing in public. Lang has avoided that dangerous game. He studied in China and has studied at the Curtis Institute of music with Gary Graffman since 1997. He is more or less an adult with adult sensibility. If he never played any better than last night, he would deserve a place among the most accomplished of adults. What must hard-working pianists like André Watts, Emanuel Ax, Lief Ove Andsnes, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet feel when they witness such a precocious blend of technique, sense, and sensibility?

The Grieg concerto is too well known to need description. Lang did not make it new, but he played it perfectly, which is even more difficult. In every aspect of the work, he demonstrated the ideal way it should be done. Nothing was cheap, gratuitous, or approximate. Everything was well-proportioned and respectful of the music, of tradition, and of the more informed members of the audience. Lang has loud, he has soft, he has speed, he has silky slowness, he has good overall conception of the piece. He produces a rich, clear, natural tone no matter how loud or soft he plays. He balances the phrases and movements so it all knits into one organic whole. He is deferential to the conductor, and so the orchestra is his close partner. Most remarkable of all, he has fun, bouncing up and down on the piano bench like a child on a pony. His swooning expression during pretty passages might seem affected in someone else, but when allied to such a magnificent playing, it didn’t. His encore was a Scriabin etude, playing with crazed gusto. Lang could have played all night, but the concert ended there, leaving us desperate to hear more of him soon.

In Caucasian/Russian conductor Yuri Temirkanov, Lang had a superb collaborator. Temirkanov is in his second year as music director of the Baltimore Symphony and to judge by the sophisticated, challenging reading of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite that preceded the concerto, the orchestra have made a wise choice.

>Carnegie Hall.

Copyright by Philip Anson (Questions or comments?


(c) La Scena Musicale 2000