Lang Lang (born 14 June 1982) is a New York-based Chinese concert pianist who has performed with leading orchestras in Europe, the United States and his native China.
Lang Lang was born in Shenyang, Liaoning, China. His father Lang Guoren (郎国任) is also a musician, who specializes in the erhu, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument. At the age of two, Lang watched the Tom and Jerry episode The Cat Concerto which features the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt. According to Lang, this first contact with Western music is what motivated him to learn piano. He began lessons with Professor Zhu Ya-Fen at age three. At the age of five, he won first place at the Shenyang Piano Competition and performed his first public recital.
When Lang was nine years old, he was near his audition for Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music, and, having difficulties with his lessons, was expelled from his piano tutor's studio for "lack of talent". The music teacher at his state school noticed Lang's sadness, and decided to comfort him by playing a record of Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 10 in C major, K. 330; she asked him to play along with the second movement. This reminded Lang of his love of the instrument. "Playing the K. 330 brought me hope again," he recalled.
Lang was later admitted into the conservatory where he studied under Professor Zhao Ping-Guo. In 1993, he won the Xing Hai Cup Piano Competition in Beijing and, in 1994, was awarded first prize for outstanding artistic performance at the fourth International Competition for Young Pianists in Ettlingen, Germany. In 1995, at 13 years of age, he played the Op. 10 and Op. 25 études by Chopin at the Beijing Concert Hall and, the same year, won first place at the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in Japan, playing Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert broadcast by NHK Television. When 14, he was a featured soloist at the China National Symphony's inaugural concert, which was broadcast by China Central Television and attended by President Jiang Zemin. The following year he began studies with Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Lang has given sold out recitals and concerts in many major cities and was the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and some top American orchestras. A Chicago Tribune music critic called him "the biggest, most exciting young keyboard talent I have encountered in many a year of attending piano recitals". Lang has been praised by musicians and critics around the world – the conductor Jahja Ling remarked, "Lang Lang is special because of his total mastery of the piano... He has the flair and great communicative power." National Public Radio's Morning Edition remarked that "Lang Lang has conquered the classical world with dazzling technique and charisma." It is often noted that Lang successfully straddles two worlds – classical prodigy and rock-like "superstar", a phenomenon summed up by The Times journalist Emma Pomfret, who wrote, "I can think of no other classical artist who has achieved Lang Lang's broad appeal without dumbing down."
Lang's performances have also been criticized. His performance style has been referred to as having "soggy rhythms and heavy phrasing," and as being "truly boring", "just bad" and "unendurable". Critics who feel that his playing is vulgar and lacks sensitivity have given him the nickname "Bang Bang". Pianist Earl Wild called him "the J. Lo of the piano." Others have described him as immature, though praised his ability to "conquer crowds with youthful bravado". His growth in recent years was reported by The New Yorker: "The ebullient Lang Lang is maturing as an artist." In April 2009, when Time Magazine included Lang Lang in its list of the 100 most influential people, Herbie Hancock described his playing as "so sensitive and so deeply human", commenting: "You hear him play, and he never ceases to touch your heart."
In 2001, after a sold-out Carnegie Hall debut with Yuri Temirkanov, he travelled to Beijing with the Philadelphia Orchestra on a tour celebrating its 100th anniversary, during which he performed to an audience of 8,000 at the Great Hall of the People. The same year, he made an acclaimed BBC Proms debut, prompting a music critic of the British newspaper The Times to write, "Lang Lang took a sold-out Royal Albert Hall by storm... This could well be history in the making". In 2003, he returned to the BBC Proms for the First Night concert with Leonard Slatkin. After his recital debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Berliner Zeitung wrote: "Lang Lang is a superb musical performer whose artistic touch is always in service of the music".
Lang is a featured soloist on the Golden Globe winning score of The Painted Veil and can be heard on the soundtrack of The Banquet. He has recorded for the Deutsche Grammophon and Telarc labels.. His album of the first and fourth Beethoven piano concertos with the Orchestre de Paris and Christoph Eschenbach debuted at No. 1 on the Classical Billboard Chart. In 2008, he was the pianist on Mike Oldfield's 2008 album Music of the Spheres. In 2010, he signed with Sony for a reported $3 million.
In December 2008, Lang partnered with Google and YouTube in the project YouTube Symphony Orchestra.
Lang has also recorded piano works for the video game Gran Turismo 5's soundtrack, mostly under the "Classical" subgenre. This included versions of Danny Boy, Beethoven's 8th Piano Sonata, and one of the game's intro pieces, the third movement from Prokofiev's 7th Piano Sonata.
Finally, he has performed for numerous international dignitaries including the former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, President Hu Jintao of China, President Horst Köhler of Germany, Prince Charles, as well as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Polish President Lech Kaczynski.
At the White House state dinner in honour of President of China Hu Jintao on 19 January 2011, Lang played a piece used in the movie Battle on Shangganling Mountain. The tune is popular and has lost much of its political and historical significance in China, but the lyrics include the line "We deal with wolves with guns", which might refer to the United States. The performance was said to be interpreted by some as insulting the USA.
Lang has performaned at various open-air venues, including Central Park New York, Hollywood Bowl Los Angeles, the Ravinia Festival Chicago, Theaterplatz in Dresden and Derby Park Hamburg.
In July 2007, he played at a concert from the Teatro del Silenzio, Lajatico, Italy, hosted by Andrea Bocelli. He performed "Io ci sarò" with Bocelli, and Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody". The performance is available on a DVD entitled Vivere Live in Tuscany.
In December 2007, Lang performed at the Nobel Prize concert in Stockholm. Collaborating with Seiji Ozawa, he appeared at the New Year's Eve gala opening for the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. He also participated in the opening concert at Munich's Olympic Stadium with Mariss Jansons, marking the commencement of the World Cup, and in a celebratory concert for the closing of '08 Euro Cup finals Lang Lang played with the Vienna Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta in front of Schönbrunn Palace.
In 2008, an audience estimated at up to a billion people saw Lang Lang's performance in Beijing's opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympics where he was promoted as a symbol of the youth and future of China. During these games, he was also featured on the German TV station ZDF and made several appearances on NBC's The Today Show Summer Olympics broadcasts. In the opening ceremony he performed a melody from the Yellow River Cantata with seven-year-old Li Muzi. Lang also collaborated with a German band Schiller to record "Time for Dreams", used to promote some coverage of the 2008 Olympics broadcast in Germany.
In February 2008, Lang and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock performed together at the 2008 Grammy Awards, playing George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The two were again brought in by United Airlines for the reintroduction of their "It's Time to Fly" advertising campaign with a series of new animated commercials aired during the 2008 Summer Olympics. In April 2008, he premiered Tan Dun's First Piano Concerto, subtitled "The Fire". Hancock and Lang continued to collaborate with a world tour in summer 2009. Lang played at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for US President Barack Obama and at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo the next day.
Lang has made numerous TV appearances including The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America, CBS Early Show and 60 Minutes. He has featured in publications including The New Yorker, Esquire, Vogue (Germany), The Times, Financial Times, GQ, Die Welt, Reader's Digest and People. Lang holds the title of the first Ambassador of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.
In 2009, he performed at Carnegie Hall accompanied by Marc Yu, an 11 year-old pianist and musical child prodigy from Pasadena, California, who made his Carnegie Hall debut at the event.
Lang Lang was featured in the award-winning German-Austrian documentary Pianomania, which was directed by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis. The film premiered theatrically in North America, Asia and throughout Europe, and is a part of the Goethe-Institut catalogue.
In 2010, he was featured at the Carnegie Hall's China Festival and performed with the New York Philharmonic on New Year's Eve at Avery Fisher Hall.
In 2011, Lang opened the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall performing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He played Liszt's 1st Piano Concerto and Chopin’s Grande Polonaise Brillante.
In June 2012, he played Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 and Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace.
ang Lang's autobiography, Journey of a Thousand Miles, published by Random House in eight languages, was released in the summer of 2008. Delacorte Press also released a version of the autobiography specifically for younger readers, entitled Playing with Flying Keys.
Lang has received many awards and made many television appearances. He appeared in Time magazine's 2009 list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, and in Gramophone magazine's Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2008, the Recording Academy named him their Cultural Ambassador to China. More recently, Lang Lang has been chosen as an official worldwide ambassador to the 2010 Shanghai Expo. Lang Lang was appointed by the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF) as an International Goodwill Ambassador in 2004. The Chinese government selected him as a vice-president of the All-China Youth Federation.
The Financial Times reported that Lang is "evangelical in his efforts to spread the popularity of classical music." In October 2008, he launched the Lang Lang International Music Foundation in New York with the support of the Grammys and UNICEF. In May 2009, Lang Lang and his three chosen scholars from the foundation – Charlie Liu, Anna Larsen, and Derek Wang, aged between eight and 10 years old – performed together on The Oprah Winfrey Show."
In June 2011, Lang Lang was engaged by Telefónica to make appearances concerning culture, technology, education and social commitment.
On 22 July 2012, Lang carried the London 2012 Olympic torch through Hornchurch on its Redbridge to Bexley leg. On 24 August 2012, he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his engagement in the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.