Born in Shenyang in 1982, Langlang is a New York-based classical pianist who has played concerts across the world and is the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and all the top American Orchestras. In 2009, Time magazine listed him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2011 he was invited to perform at the White House for a state dinner with Hu Jinitao. Lang has devoted himself so much in inspiring children and young musicians to take interests in classical music. Langlang was in Shenzhen this week at the Langham Hotel where he had a private concert.
Shenzhen Party: What artists are you listening to now?
Lang Lang: I have listened some artists for many years, like Alicia Keys. I like Herbie Hancock and John Legend and Jay-Z. I have a few artists I always listen to.
Shenzhen Party: Whom have you done collaboration with?
Lang Lang: I have cooperated with Andrea Bocelli, Herbie Hancock and Paul McCartney. I am thinking to do something with Elton John.
He invited me for his tour in China but I couldn’t make it this time, but we are looking for new projects. And over the New Year, this year, I’m going to work for the first time, with José Carreras.
Shenzhen Party: When you play a new music score, do you try to understand the emotion of the composer when he wrote it or do you bring in your own emotional experience to express the score?
Lang Lang: No, as professional musicians, the first thing you learn is how to understand composers, and this mission is always taught throughout our entire life, how to understand what does Beethoven want, and you always try to fit in that style first, and then you recreate the moments.
If you don’t understand what the composers want, you are not a professional player. Normally the great teachers will help you understand better, in a way that you understand more completely.
Shenzhen Party: Which elements of your performance do you consider to be the most important, the technical ability or stage presence?
Lang Lang: Everything is important. It is like good food, which surely includes many elements such as look, taste and flavor, etc. It is the same with music. Good technique, good musical sense and good understanding are necessary and they are needed to combine together to make everything right. But that is the harder thing.
You can put in a lot of emotions, but maybe it is too much, too strong! Subtle things make the whole thing different. So you need to know exactly where to bring your heart, deep in, where to come out, and you need to, like when you reading the great novels, every sentence means something, but not every sentence is so important, right? But without all those material information you can’t get into the climax.
Also you need to find new ways to do the same thing or people will get tired of it. Like a really good striker, there’s always the goal, but every time he’s trying to find different ways to get the goal in.
Shenzhen Party: How do you inspire people to get into music?
Lang Lang: Some people have an image problem that they thought classic music is a kind of old and not connected thing. So our idea is to lighten the electricity and to re-insure that classic music is not yesterday’s stuff, but also today and future stuff. Social media plays a big role here. In addition, collaborating with different artists, letting other artists from different genres to promote classical music is very important too.
When people listen to classical music for the first time, they write something on Twitter or Facebook or on Chinese weibo. And then people “Oh really, the show went nice? Oh, I’d like to listen”. This feedback is really important. That’s why I think social media is very good for classical music. This gives this type of art a new life to share. We need to create a new image and that’s a challenge and a very unfortunate challenge, but we are facing this issue worldwide.
My job to do is different between the West and China. In the West, a lot of people know music very well and what I need to do is to share classical music with those who never like to listen it. In China, people may not understand music well, but you come to classical concerts, mostly kindergarten kids. Here you are trying to help them to understand how to listen, how to enjoy classical music.
Shenzhen Party: You do a lot of Education job for children. This is important for the future of music. So how would you like to be remembered in the future? As a pianist or a companionate philanthropist?
Lang Lang: For me, education is the main thing, because if you don’t have a good education, even though you have a good talent, you will never evolve. I’ve been very fortunate to have a good teacher from the beginning till today. So we need to do more events and more classes for the kids.
However, though we have many academies around the world, we need performers like me to give them inspirational classes, not just academic classes. We are trying to look into to have more personal and creative classes, especially in China. In the end, you are coming to the stage to perform instead of studying. These two are very different and that is why I ask kids to perform for each other every week. We have family concerts every week to play not to study.
Shenzhen Party: Why did you open your school in Shenzhen?
Lang Lang: Shenzhen is a really wide open city and people would like to come to. Also it is very international.
Shenzhen Party: How do become a student, do you have to have special talent, or can just anybody apply?
Lang Lang: We have different levels. Basically you can apply, whoever can apply, but we have an age limit. You need to be under 14 years old. I hope everyone in this school will have international approach of learning music.
Shenzhen Party: How much time do you plan to spend in Shenzhen with the school?
Lang Lang: I come here every three months.
Shenzhen Party: Do you see the Shenzhen government supporting classical music enough?
Lang Lang: Absolutely. I must say that I have a very big project with the government here. First of all, I’m the Shenzhen international ambassador. We are planning to do a music academy. We already found a location in Futian District. And two of my schools will be, one in Nanshan, which is already open.
And the other will be in Luohu.
Shenzhen Party: what’s the difference between the schools and the academy?
Lang Lang: The age. After you turn 14, then you go to the academy. I’m excited about the academy because that’s going to be very important. We’re probably going to team up with western schools together to have their system and plus, to have the local knowledge.
Shenzhen Party: So you’ll be able to do a mix of western instruction and Chinese instruction?
Lang Lang: Yeah. Because for classical music, that’s the only way to be an international, I think. For me, I came to Germany when I was 12 and came to America to study when I was 14 and a half, so that’s why I have a really good international approach because I learned international ways.
China is very good for building fundamental stuff, but we need a very international-friendly area to developing our artistry.
Shenzhen Party: What kind of hotels do you prefer, the business hotels or the hotels that are artistic?
Lang Lang: I really love to stay in Langham. They treat me like I’m at home. That’s the thing what I like. Come in and I always get the best massage and the best room service. Moreover, I always want to have some Chinese food. As you know, in the West, you don’t get the best Chinese food or Asian flavors. But my stomach is really made in China. You need that tradition.
Also, I always like to invite my guests to have a drink in my hotel because I don’t want to go out after a concert. I am tired. And they always open pretty late and there’s always a private place in which you can do a lot of business or just having a fun time. That’s what I need. When you go out you need to be in comfort. You need to have the home feeling, the good food and the privacy. I think that’s what I like.