On the evening of Oct 2nd, the 2013 ceremony for the Classic BRIT Awards noted as Oscar in classical music circles was held at the Royal Albert Hall. Chinese pianist Lang Lang was honored as International Artist of the Year. As the first Chinese artist ever to receive the award, Lang Lang was no doubt the biggest winner that night.
While celebrating Lang Lang’s tremendous musical achievement, let’s have a brief review of his life and career to figure out how the genius turned from a little unknown pianist to a world-famous virtuoso.
Born on 14 June 1982 in Shenyang, Liaoning, China, Lang Lang, literally meaning brilliance of the sky in Chinese, inherited his talent from special parents. His mother played classical music to him when he was still in her womb and his father, also a musician, placed high expectations on the son. Motivated by the music of Liszt in old Tom and Jerry cartoon at 2, Lang Lang then decided to take the path of music.
However, things didn’t always go well in the beginning. To realize the musical dream, Lang Lang’s father split up with his wife and took the boy to Beijing so that Lang Lang could study in Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, the finest music academy in China. At age 9, Lang Lang was expelled by his piano teacher, Professor Angry, as Lang Lang called him later, for “lack of talent”. That really drove his ambitious father nuts who even threatened to kill the boy. After a long depressing time between father and son, Lang Lang said to his father “find me another teacher and I want to play again”. Then at 14, he followed his music road to America.
Lang Lang moved with his father to Philadelphia where he was admitted by the world-famous Curtis Institute of Music and won a full scholarship. Lang Lang’s real breakthrough in the west came in 1999 when he was called upon to make a dramatic substitution at the last minute for another reputed pianist, playing a Tchaikovsky concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It made him what the journalists called an “overnight star” and from then on, the world became crazy about him.
Later, Lang Lang signed a contract with IMG and then DG, both of which are world-renowned record companies. Releasing enormous albums and DVDs, holding hard-to-get-tickets concerts and receiving countless awards, Lang Lang has obviously become today’s true superstar. The first pianist to play on the opening ceremony of the World Cup, the first Chinese to win Bernstein’s artistic achievement award and the first Chinese pianist to play at Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize concert—all these “firsts” have led people to think of him as a “legend”.
But our story doesn’t end here. Although he has had such significant success in music, Lang Lang has never ceased practicing. “Practice makes perfect” Lang Lang always said. He also has his own original idea of music: it’s not just about repeated practicing; you need to do soul contact with composers so that you can express the music with spirit and present its authentic style and feature. Apart from western classical music, Lang Lang will often play Chinese pieces as encores. Representing China, Lang Lang has played a very important role in introducing domestic culture to the rest of the world. In terms of musical education, Lang Lang held that pianists need to connect with everybody to build a musical education. That’s why he established The Lang Lang International Music Foundation which inspired millions of young people to believe that music can make life better.
“Prodigy”, “stunning” or “most influential”? It’s really hard to find a simple word which perfectly applies to Lang Lang. Anyway, maybe we can end his story this way: as long as you insist on your dreams, one day all your effort and sacrifice will surely pay off.
This article was originally written by a young Chinese writer, Sophie Pan, and is used by permission.