I THINK THE BEST THING IS TO PLAY EV­ERY CON­CERT AS IF IT’S YOUR FIRST LANG LANG

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music - The Times Mag­a­zine The Chopin Al­bum is out on Sony Mu­sic.

pi­anist for the Chicago Sym­phony. Or­ches­tras from New York, Bos­ton, Philadel­phia and Cleve­land asked him to play with them. Con­duc­tor and pi­anist Daniel Baren­boim be­came his men­tor. He told Lang: ‘‘ We should not just learn mu­sic from our life ex­pe­ri­ence but also learn life ex­pe­ri­ence through mu­sic. In this way, no mat­ter how old you are, you can play some­thing in­cred­i­ble.’’

Lang re­mem­bers his first time in a five-star ho­tel. ‘‘ I was so ex­cited about the mini-bar, swim­ming pool, room ser­vice — ‘ Wow, tour­ing is cool,’ I thought.’’ But he once wrote he had ‘‘ to won­der what’s out there be­yond the lux­ury ho­tels and restau­rants. I can never for­get where I came from — the poverty, the lone­li­ness.’’

‘‘ It was chal­leng­ing,’’ Lang says of youth­ful fame. ‘‘ Peo­ple have high ex­pec­ta­tions. They say, ‘ He’ll grow up and won’t play as well. Is he still go­ing to be this good in two years?’ To­day, ev­ery­one is ques­tion­ing whether Justin Bieber will go far af­ter he’s 20. For me it was an­noy­ing: I just fo­cused on the art. Ad­vice is great some­times, but it can be harm­ful: you must not for­get what you’re do­ing. You mustn’t think about star­dom.’’

Still, he was ‘‘ heav­ily in­flu­enced’’ by pop­u­lar cul­ture, amazed by large num­bers of peo­ple know­ing who Michael Jor­dan was. ‘‘ You could go to any phar­macy or store and see their con­nec­tion to the pub­lic. With clas­si­cal mu­sic you have to go to a spe­cial sec­tion of the store to find our mu­sic. I learned from Yo-Yo Ma [the Amer­i­can cel­list], whose CDs are some­times in Star­bucks, how to pro­mote my­self.

‘‘ But it’s also very chal­leng­ing be­cause you have to be­have prop­erly at all times. When I’m fol­lowed by pa­parazzi, or when peo­ple take my pho­to­graph out­side a ho­tel or restau­rant, it feels un­nat­u­ral.’’

But Lang hopes his youth and style help free clas­si­cal mu­sic from its per­ceived ghetto. ‘‘ I be­lieve great art should be shared with ev­ery­one. Maybe Beethoven was paid by the king, but he wanted his pieces to be heard by ev­ery­one. ‘ Let’s stay in our lit­tle club’ is not the right kind of pro­mo­tion for clas­si­cal mu­sic.’’

As for the flam­boy­ance: ‘‘ I do it when the piece de­mands it, but it is only one part of my play­ing. You don’t need to be ap­proved of by peo­ple, just play and be sin­cere.’’ From the ‘‘ I must win’’ of his youth, his at­ti­tude now is: ‘‘ No 1: that’s stupid, just do your art. I am still de­vel­op­ing.’’ He once wrote that de­pres­sion had stalked him, ‘‘ loom­ing over me since my pro­fes­sional ca­reer took off. I’d felt con­stantly un­moored, al­ways com­pletely alone in spite of the crowds that clam­oured for my at­ten­tion.’’ He feels more se­cure now. ‘‘ You can be one of the best only when you are do­ing your best. A big ego will lead you to play wrong notes.’’ He laughs. ‘‘ I think the best thing is to play ev­ery con­cert as if it’s your first.’’

Has Lang ever been starstruck? Yes, he nods: Lionel Messi, the Ar­gen­tinian foot­baller, at Wim­ble­don one year, ‘‘ and world lead­ers. I en­joyed my con­ver­sa­tion with Mr Ge­orge Bush Sr. It was very mean­ing­ful: he be­lieved, as I do, mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion needs to be im­proved. I thought that was very sweet.’’

Af­ter the di­a­mond ju­bilee con­cert, the Queen said, ‘‘ ‘ Your fin­gers are mov­ing so fast.’ I was like, ‘ Yes, that’s prac­tice.’ She said, ‘ Keep it go­ing.’ ’’ At an­other con­cert, Sasha and Malia Obama ‘‘ asked the Jonas Brothers how to sing and me how to pre­pare [for] a recital. I told them, ‘ Take a nap, eat some straw­ber­ries and, if you like to eat sweeter stuff, choco­late.’ For me, the most in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ences are not state din­ners — it was when I was 21, play­ing for a vil­lage in Africa where they got me a key­board, not a pi­ano, singing lo­cal songs with the kids.’’

In the testi­est moment be­tween us, Lang will not state whether he sup­ports Ai Wei­wei, the artist and ac­tivist who has been de­tained by the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties.

‘‘ I try to avoid po­lit­i­cal things,’’ he says. ‘‘ I’m not afraid of say­ing some­thing wrong. I think my goal as a mu­si­cian is to cre­ate art. I don’t know him as a per­son.’’ Lang claims, ‘‘ Artists al­ways have the free­dom to ex­press them­selves,’’ which might come as sur­pris­ing news to Ai. ‘‘ You cre­ate art, you can ex­plain this in mil­lions of ways. I don’t think po­lit­i­cal things can stop artis­tic cre­ation.’’

Lang hopes ‘‘ the world bet­ter un­der­stands China’’ through its art. Is China friendly to artists? ‘‘ Very. For the peo­ple I know. I can’t speak for ev­ery artist, of course. I’ve got a good space [for his school].’’ If the government gives other artists space, ‘‘ They just cre­ate art. It’s not pro-China or anti-China. Peo­ple are cre­at­ing amaz­ing things in China, po­lit­i­cal or not.’’ Is Lang wor­ried about Ai, his treat­ment, what it means? ‘‘ Mak­ing mu­sic is my world. I have no in­ter­est in pol­i­tics.’’

Next, Lang will do a record­ing of Bar­tok con­cer­tos with Simon Rat­tle and the Berlin Phil­har­monic. He is in­spired by pi­anists such as Glenn Gould, Arthur Ru­bin­stein and Vladimir Horowitz and con­tem­po­rary mu­si­cians Joshua Bell, Gus­tavo Du­damel and Valery Gergiev. ‘‘ I like Adele very much,’’ he adds. ‘‘ When she sings she has this real qual­ity. I went to a Lady Gaga con­cert: it was fun, a lot of rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas. From man-world, ev­ery­thing Jay-Z touches is unique.’’ Paul McCart­ney, whom Lang has met three times, said to him, ‘‘ You’re a clas­si­cal pi­anist, I’m a clas­sic rocker.’’ Lang wants to work with McCart­ney and Adele. El­ton John is a friend; the pair are dis­cussing a col­lab­o­ra­tion, ‘‘ a to­tally new song’’.

Does Lang want chil­dren? ‘‘ This type of sched­ule means it’s not pos­si­ble, I’m fo­cused more on mu­sic. I would like chil­dren in 10 years’ time. That’s the plan, but you never know.’’ Is he in a re­la­tion­ship? ‘‘ I’m go­ing on a date tonight. Ev­ery time I come home I try to have as much time for my­self to have a re­la­tion­ship. I don’t have a steady girl­friend. It would be nice to find some­one, but it’s nice to make friends first.’’ Has he been in love? ‘‘ Yes, dur­ing school when I was 17. You have more time then, you see that per­son all the time. But then the tour­ing started. I think love is very im­por­tant, it’s one of the most im­por­tant things in life.’’

His mother lives nearby and is his trav­el­ling com­pan­ion, while he and his fa­ther video-chat ev­ery day. His fa­ther is coach­ing young mu­si­cians in Bei­jing. Lang thinks age has soft­ened him. (He says, laugh­ing: ‘‘ I would like him to be more en­er­getic.’’) Has his fa­ther said sorry for what hap­pened when Lang was a child? ‘‘ No, it’s very ori­en­tal. You know you’re wrong, but it’s hard to say sorry. He will not say it in front of me. Maybe to the pub­lic he will be­cause he feels bad. He feels he loves me so much he doesn’t need to say sorry.’’ Would Lang like him to? ‘‘ No. My fa­ther showed he cared about me. He was be­ing very pro­tec­tive, though he made mis­takes. We are all hu­man be­ings. It wasn’t as if he was drunk ev­ery day and hit­ting me. He wanted his kid to have a won­der­ful fu­ture. I don’t need him to say he’s sorry for that. We all know he felt bad: that’s good enough.’’

Lang re­tains the ‘‘ spir­i­tual dis­ci­pline’’ of his child­hood, ‘‘ but I’m an adult now’’, so on non­con­cert days he shops, eats out and plays foot­ball with friends in Cen­tral Park with a Manch­ester United foot­ball. ‘‘ My English team, from when Beck­ham played. I think [Wayne] Rooney is amaz­ing.’’

He has be­come ad­dicted to the gym. ‘‘ I go ev­ery day. If you’re a pi­anist you spend your time sit­ting down. You need to ex­er­cise your legs.’’ Lang prac­tises for two hours a day on the pi­ano that stands in the win­dowed apex of his apart­ment. ‘‘ I am a pi­anist and will re­main a pi­anist and to re­main as one is a lot of hard work,’’ he says. Un­like in your youth, there’s no neigh­bour telling you to shut up, I say. Lang replies: ‘‘ There have been com­plaints. I am not al­lowed to play af­ter 11pm.’’

Su­per­star or not, dis­turb your New York neigh­bours at your peril.

Lang Lang brings a flam­boy­ant rock-star style to clas­si­cal pi­ano

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