Lang Lang teams up with 10 stars for new album m
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.
Lang Lang and US musician Kandace Springs perform in Beijing to promote the Chinese pianist’s new crossover album, NewYork Rhapsody.