Lang gets into year of Latin spirit
The Chinese pianist is helping bring his country, the Caribbean and South America together, Yan Dongjie reports.
The world has a lot to thank Tom and Jerry for. It was through a television episode of the American cartoon series that Lang Lang had his first contact with Western music, when he was 2 years old.
Hearing Tom the cat masterfully play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 — albeit with unwelcome interruptions from a certain mouse — inspired Lang to take up the piano, and now, more than 30 years later, he is one of the most soughtafter players on the international stage.
But there is much more to the Chinese musician than piano playing, and in 2013 the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, named him as a messenger of peace, a role in which Lang sees his main job as educating the young.
More recently Lang was appointed image ambassador for the China-Latin America and Caribbean 2016 Year of Cultural Exchange, and in addition to a full itinerary of concerts in Europe he is now preparing for concerts and education projects in Latin America.
He is no stranger to the region, having visited Latin America three times, so he is well acquainted with countries such as Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.
“I don’t feel like an ambassador,” Lang said. “I just feel that we are connected through art.”
He has won numerous awards, is the first Chinese pianist to be a member of the Berliner Philharmonic and the top five symphony orchestras in the United States, has performed at the White House in Washington, and took part in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.
“I’m a big admirer of Latin American arts and dances,” he said. “Every time I’m there I feel very inspired, not only for their passion for art but also the way they dance and express themselves. They are also very friendly to Chinese artists, enthusiastic, talkative and encouraging.”
Latinos have music in their genes, he said, and can sing and dance on any occasion. He recalls once having dinner with a Latino family and being impressed by the fact that unlike Chinese, who prefer to chatter away while they eat, Latinos express their mood by dancing and singing.
“I once watched tango and salsa performances in homes in Argentina and Brazil. From a very close distance I could feel the dancers’ passion for both dance and life. My heart almost jumped out of my chest.”
The China-Latin America and Caribbean 2016 Year of Cultural Exchange was mooted by President Xi Jinping in 2014, and, after months of preparations, the event will formally open next month.
“The event highlights the Chinese government’s desire to promote China-Latin America relations and will improve cultural exchanges,” said Zhu Qi, deputy director of the Bureau for External Cultural Relations in the Ministry of Culture.
Lang will perform in a handful of countries including Argentina, Chile and Peru. Local artists will get the chance to perform with him, the idea being for people to learn about each other’s music.
“It’s the first time a cultural group of this size has toured Latin American countries, and I hope people will sense our sincerity and that they will be enthused.”
Recently Lang has been honing his skills in playing Latin American music and said he hopes he can “perform with the music genes that Latinos do”.
“Music can strike chords in people’s hearts and connect their souls. Music flows into people, overcoming barriers of language and distance.”
In addition to concerts in Latin America, in which he will play both Chinese and Latin American music, Lang said he will give talks to young people there.
“Music combined with education is the best cultural exchange, because music resonates with people’s souls, and education makes that resonance take root.”
More than 100 young people will get the opportunity to communicate with Lang face to face in Peru and Argentina, playing music and exchanging cultures.
Lang said he has learned a lot from Latino children, and he believes he has more to learn.
“Some young people I have met there have grown up in very poor circumstances but remain optimistic and happy through music, always open to make friends that way with people from all over the world.”
In a visit to Venezuela, Lang collaborated with conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and the two are now good friends. Dudamel has a project in which music is used to bring young Venezuelans out of poverty and lives of crime, a program that Lang said deeply touched him.
“Those children become confident and become better people because of music. I am so impressed by Dudamel’s efforts. I hope I can do a similar project in China.”
He also hopes Latin American artists can take their culture to China, he said.
Latino artists he has worked with such as the Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez are all keen to work more with Chinese people.
“I hope that we can promote artistic exchange by holding multinational concerts and introducing more artist friends to our country.”
Despite the differences in their cultures, Chinese and Latinos have many things in common, he said.
“It’s easy for us to become friends in two minutes. We should really communicate more, not only through music, but also on a people-to-people level.”
Chen Nan contributed to this story.
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Lang Lang, who was recently appointed image ambassador for the China-Latin America and Caribbean 2016 Year of Cultural Exchange, will perform in a handful of countries including Argentina, Chile and Peru.