Interview: China’s exuberant pianist Lang Lang sits on top of the classical world

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Rockstar classical pianist Lang Lang plays at the Paramount on Saturday. Rockstar classical pianist Lang Lang plays at the Paramount on Saturday.

Chinese pianist Lang Lang is one of the hottest performers in the world right now.

Equally known for his energetic performances and his prodigious talent, the Shenyang native has wowed audiences since he became inspired to try piano after watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon entitled, “The Cat Concerto.”

Thirty years on, Lang Lang has racked up thousands of live appearances, many of them for dignitaries around the globe, and made his mark in front of an estimated 1 billion viewers as the musical star of the opening ceremonies at the 2008 summer Olympic games in Bejing.

Just as comfortable hammering out an accompaniment to Metallica’s Grammy performance of “One” as he is playing Liszt for the Queen of England, Lang Lang’s mastery and flair have broadened his appeal, making him a rock star of classical music. While his style has endeared him to a wider audience, not all of his peers have been charmed.

It’s been reported that American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (who was also known for flamboyant performances) once snarkily called Lang Lang “the J. Lo of the piano.”

During his rise to fame, Lang Lang has partnered with Google and YouTube, cut soundtrack material for video games and major motion pictures, and collaborated with a spectrum of creative minds from Herbie Hancock to Mike Oldfield. In 2013, Lang Lang was selected by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace. Lang Lang answered C-VILLE Weekly’s questions via e-mail, in advance of his performance at The Paramount Theater on Saturday, February 15.

C-VILLE Weekly: Who or what influences your style of piano playing?

Lang Lang: Many people. I learn from teachers, mentors, different generations of musicians.

Do you have a favorite composer?

Many, not one. Such as Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninoff , Prokofiev, etc.

What is your first memory of performing in front of an audience?

My first competition in Shenyang [at age 5], and what made me happy was I won.

What inspiration can you offer to a beginning piano student?

Listen to piano music [during] childhood and play with peer students.

You’ve been called a rock star because of your stage energy. Do you enjoy rock ‘n’ roll music?

Some of it. I have great rock musician friends.

What brought you together with Metallica?

Their last concert in China. They wanted to do some collaborating with Chinese artists. That idea brought us together, and we luckily got on The Grammy’s. It’s a great band, and it has been an amazing experience, full of inspiration.

Are you a fan of Metallica’s music?

Yes!

Do you play any other instruments?

Erhu, a tiny bit.

Do you have any good luck charms or rituals for performing well?

Not really. I try to relax myself before concerts and not eat too much.

What are your favorite foods after travelling around the world?

Mom-made foods.

What does the role of United Nations Messenger of Peace mean to you?

It means tremendous [things] to me. I’d love to bring children my music, to inspire them, and advocate for peace with music.

How important is music to our planet’s future?

We had music all [throughout] time during our civilization and history. I believe we will enjoy it in [the] future, all [through] time, as well.

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