Cross­over rhap­sodydy

Lang Lang teams up with 10 stars for new al­bum m

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Amer­i­can jazz mu­si­cian Her­bie Han­cock teamed up with Chi­nese pi­anist Lang Lang for a six-minute ver­sion of Ge­orge Gersh­win’s Rhap­sody in Blue at the Grammy Awards cer­e­mony in 2008. It was a big night for Han­cock, who won his 12th Grammy for al­bum of the year with River: The Joni Let­ters. It was also a re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for Lang.

“When we worked on the col­lab­o­ra­tion, I played Gersh­win’s Rhap­sody in Blue in my way, which is tra­di­tional and clas­si­cal. Then Her­bie per­formed his ver­sion, which stunned me,” re­calls Lang in Bei­jing re­cently. “He pre­sented ev­ery note of the piece with a dif­fer­ent color, which is free and fresh. The pi­ano doesn’t sound like a pi­ano. It’s like from in­side his heart.”

The col­lab­o­ra­tion started Lang’s first step to­ward im­pro­vi­sa­tion and led him to make a cross­over al­bum. After five years of prepa­ra­tions, the al­bum was re­leased on Fri­day.

Ti­tled New York Rhap­sody, the 10-track al­bum fea­tures 10 col­lab­o­rat­ing guest artists, in­clud­ing Han­cock, Kan­dace Springs and Sean Jones.

“This al­bum is my bold­est project to date,” says the 34-year-old pi­anist, who is not just an in­ter­na­tional soloist but a UNICEF good­will am­bas­sador. He has pub­lished a pi­ano book for begin­ners and owns his per­fume brand.

“I have spent my life per­fect­ing my per­for­mance as a clas­si­cal pi­anist. I have cov­ered mu­sic pieces from some of the great­est com­posers, such as Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart. But this new al­bum dis­plays a dif­fer­ent side of me.

“Cross­over is not easy. I have spent five years find­ing the right peo­ple to work with.”

Born in Shenyang, cap­i­tal of North­east China’s Liaon­ing prov­ince, Lang started play­ing the pi­ano at age of 3 and soared to star­dom by 10 when he won the top prize at the Tchaikovsky In­ter­na­tional Young Mu­si­cians’ Com­pe­ti­tion.

After dis­cussing his ideas with dozens of pro­duc­ers, Lang fi­nally met Gram­my­win­ning pro­ducer Larry Klein, who in­spired him to make New York City the theme of his al­bum.

“It’s like telling a story with the al­bum, from the morn­ing to the evening of liv­ing in New York,” says the pi­anist, who vis­ited the city for the first time in 1996 when he was 14, to par­tic­i­pate in a mu­sic sum­mer camp.

In 1997, he be­gan stud­ies with Gary Graffman at the Cur­tis In­sti­tute of Mu­sic in Philadel­phia.

“My teacher (Graffman) is a New Yorker. I went to New York ev­ery week,” he re­calls. “My im­pres­sion about the city is the crowds and peo­ple of dif­fer­ent col­ors, who speak dif­fer­ent lan­guages.

“New York has changed the course of mu­sic more than any other in the last hun­dred years. It has in­spired and en­riched me beyond words and has be­come my home away from home.”

He was named the city’s first am­bas­sador for cul­tural tourism in July.

In­spired by E.B. White’s cel­e­brated es­say, Here Is New York, his new al­bum’s pro­ducer Klein as­sem­bled mu­si­cal ideas and en­er­gies that both re­flect New York’s past and evoke its dy­namic present.

“The process of record­ing the al­bum was a chal­leng­ing one,” Klein says. “Com­ing from com­pletely dif­fer­ent ar­eas on the mu­si­cal con­tin­uum, Lang Lang and I had to ed­u­cate each other in or­der to cre­ate a meet­ing place where our worlds in­ter­sected to craft what we were both seek­ing — a fresh voice that felt both time­less and new.

“The qual­ity of Lang Lang’s per­son­al­ity and play­ing— that was my bea­con while cre­at­ing that place. It was the same qual­ity that drew me in at the be­gin­ning of the project — in­sa­tiable cu­rios­ity.”

At the cen­ter of the al­bum is Rhap­sody in Blue, fea­tur­ing Han­cock in a two-pi­ano ver­sion con­ducted by John Ax­el­rod with the Lon­don Sym­phony Or­ches­tra.

Grammy-win­ning singer­song­writer Ja­son Is­bell gives a fresh edge to Bri­tish band El­bow’s New York Morn­ing and Grammy-nom­i­nated R&B singer Andra Day adds a new di­men­sion to the Jay-Z and Ali­cia Keys’ hit Em­pire State of Mind.

Singer Madeleine Pey­roux re­cap­tures Moon River from the film Break­fast at Tif­fany’s.

Klein and Grammy-win­ning com­poser Billy Childs mixed the Leonard Bern­stein/ Stephen Sond­heim song, Some­where, from West Side Story with Lou Reed’s Dirty Blvd from his clas­sic al­bum New York.

In Bei­jing re­cently, the pi­anist gave a per­for­mance along with Nashville-based singer pi­anist Springs, with a new in­ter­pre­ta­tion on Don Hen­ley’s moody New York Minute. The song is also recorded in the al­bum.

Fol­low­ing the re­lease of the al­bum, a star-stud­ded con­cert spe­cial Live From Lincoln Cen­ter will air on US pub­lic tele­vi­sion on Nov 25 as part of the PBS Arts Fall Fes­ti­val.

“Peo­ple al­ways say that clas­si­cal mu­sic is tra­di­tional and the mar­ket is dy­ing. But with this al­bum, I hope peo­ple will change their perspective be­cause clas­si­cal mu­sic can be fun,” Lang says.

After this al­bum, the en­er­getic pi­anist says he will go back to be­ing “first and last, a clas­si­cal mu­si­cian”.

On Sept 10, he gave a recital in Guangzhou, play­ing De­bussy’s bal­lade, Liszt’s sonata and pieces from Span­ish com­posers.

Next, he kicks off his US tour, in­clud­ing per­form­ing with the Boston Sym­phony Or­ches­tra at its 2016-2017 open­ing sea­son con­cert. Next year and in 2018, he will tour with the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic and the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic.

“Now, I am work­ing hard on Bach’s Gold­berg Vari­a­tions,” he says.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Lang Lang and US mu­si­cian Kan­dace Springs per­form in Bei­jing to pro­mote the Chi­nese pi­anist’s new cross­over al­bum, NewYork Rhap­sody.

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