Despite his upbringing in rural China, Lang Lang mastered the piano studying the great Europeans. Lang Lang, pronounced ’Lang Laang’ – means ’Bright Man’, and true to his name, the artist continues to shine brighter with each performance.
34 years old, Lang has bright eyes and wears his hair styled energetically. On the eve of his performance at the Teatro dell’Opera in Florence, the staff watch him curiously, almost as though they expect him to be different, more formal. Dressed in Alexander Plokov shirt and Dsquared2 jacket from Luisa Via Roma, he sits, compliments the stool and begins to play. Suddenly everything makes sense, everything stops.
Do you remember the first time you played in public?
I was 5 years old, it was my first competition in my home city (Shenyang, north east of Beijing, close to the North Korean border). The tension was so high I closed myself in the bathroom. Then, I was on stage in front of 800 people, I felt the audiences energy, it was fantastic. It created a magical silence. It still feels the same way today.
Why do you play classical music in 2015?
Many think it’s because it helps with concentration. I have always believed that classical music is a form of art and the piano as the only instrument that truly allows me to express myself. It’s an instrument that stands alone, that I can use to paint and go beyond a tangible world. The piano is a universe. I wouldn’t be able to play an instrument that sounds the same every time, I need something that inspires new ideas.
You’re from the Chinese countryside, yet you grew up playing pieces by the great German, Polish and Italian composers. What did you think the first time you arrived in Europe?
I was 12 years old and in Germany for a competition. I played Haydn and everyone believed I was German – they told me this was wonderful news. I followed with a tarantella by Franz Liszt. You see, its not like I can really tell the difference, I have always played Chinese and European music and I don’t feel foreign. To be clear, I studied the style, I know the difference between the Italian Renaissance and German Romanticism, it’s just that on the night I get up on stage and play music, not a theory.
You can’t ignore that there is a connection between music and country.
That’s true. Travelling to Europe for concerts has helped me to understand the music that I play. Already having studied the music helps more than one could imagine. I also come from a generation of Chinese that grew up between two cultures: we watch the Italian soccer championship, we are as familiar with Italian food as many of you are with Chinese. We are the product of a cultural fusion. When I played Tchaikovsky in Russia and heard members of the audience crying, I didn’t feel like a Chinese amongst Russians, but an interpreter of the human spirit.
You talk about “Fusion”. Is this a word that represents you?
Yes. I am a classical musician but also someone from the third millennium. I don’t want to reject the world, I want to embrace it.
You’re not bothered by the critique of classical purists, who have already dubbed you “the Jennifer Lopez of the piano world”?
I don’t care. No matter what I do, I am still a classical pianist. I am not breaking barriers, I just want to create a new type of music that already exists. I think: if I can play something well with a synth, why should I reject the piano? In the end, I am loyal to the sound of the piano.
Adapted from Italian version written by : Marco Pedersini
Photographer: Ilaria Magliocchetti Lombi
In collaboration with: Rolling Stone Italia