Lang Lang, the 28-year-old piano superstar, was told by his father at the age of 9 to jump off the balcony of their 11th-story Beijing apartment. Death, apparently, was the only option after an early rejection in Lang’s musical career. As the pianist recounts it in his recent autobiography,
Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story (published by Spiegel & Grau), the bullying, irrational behavior of his father only helped Lang get where he is today.
Heralded at 17 as the hot new thing in a music world that has a voracious appetite for new blood, Lang had a Hollywood-like debut. Asked to audition for Christoph Eschenbach, the conductor who was in Chicago directing the Ravinia Festival in 1999, Lang was called in a few days later to substitute for André Watts, who was ill. He played Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and sparked a fire of acclaim that even his critics — and there are many — have not been able to put out.
Lang comes to Santa Fe to open the Santa Fe Concert Association’s 74th season, appearing in recital at Santa Fe Opera on Monday, Sept. 20. On the program are 12 Etudes, Op. 25, by Frédéric Chopin — pieces that are considered among the most technically challenging pieces in the piano repertory and that Lang first performed professionally at the age of 13. “Fifteen years have passed” since that Chopin performance, the pianist wrote in an email to
Pasatiempo. “How time flies. I’m sure I will have a much more mature interpretation.”
In fact, music writers have been saying exactly that lately about Lang’s work. In 2008, The New York Times called him “a work in progress” and added, “That’s good news for classical music.”
“In my heart, I am trying to make progress,” Lang said in a phone call from Europe. “Every day, I am trying to improve musically, to understand better. That’s our job as artists.”
In the past, critics have nicknamed him “Bang Bang” and lambasted him for a showy physical style, as if Liberace were coaching him from the grave. The Times also said that, while no one can quibble with Lang’s technique, which is frequently awe-inspiring, “He has a penchant for interpretive exaggeration. His playing can be so intensely expressive that he contorts phrases, distorts musical structure, and fills his music-making with distracting affectations.”