“101 Pianist’s” at Weill Hall Sunday─ Lang Lang’s dedication, passion, and teaching prowess front and center
Green Music Center’s season openers are always magical but yesterday’s finale event, “101 Painists,” led by Lang Lang, was most of my most memorable afternoons ever at Weill Hall. One hundred gifted young piano students, from all over the Bay Area, gathered for an on-stage music lesson and performance with Lang Lang. The piano legend, who gave the very first performance at Weill Hall in 2012, opened GMC’s 2015-16 season on Saturday evening with a sold-out concert of music from Chopin, followed by a gala reception and dinner. Sunday’s finale concert, though, was all about kids and musicianship and giving back. Packed to capacity with families and scampering kids of all ages, Weill Hall was hopping as we experienced Lang Lang inspiring the next generation of young musicians with his passion, humor, and undeniable gift for communication.
After initial preparation with their local music teachers, the lucky 100 young pianists, sitting two to a keyboard, perfected and performed Schubert’s “Marche Militaire” No. 1 and Brahms’s “Hungarian Dance” in F sharp minor. Since its launch in 2009, “101 Pianists” has been presented in global cities from Amsterdam to Kowloon, to Rome to Washington D.C.. Rohnert Park is the 14th participant to date and 1400 young pianists have participated so far. The program allows students of the solo piano to enjoy the social nature of creating music as an ensemble.
In between the rehearsal and performance portions of the two-hour session, Lang Lang took questions from the students and responded thoughtfully about his favorite music, his practice routine, and how to infuse music with emotion. He revealed that he began playing at age two and a half and had a rigorous rehearsal regimen─ six hours a day on weekdays and longer on the weekends. Now days, though, he practices 2 hours daily, unless he’s preparing for a concert. He revealed frankly that there’s no sense practicing if your heart is not in it, “best to take a break.” There’s great complexity in motivating young musicians to imbue their playing with heartfelt emotion. He encouraged parents to motivate their children with positive reinforcement, mentioning Transformers (toys) and candy. Many of us recall the relentless pressure that Lang Lang’s parents placed on him at a very young age to succeed. Lang Lang, now 33, seems to have digested that and is trying to inspire a passion for playing with much gentler methods. And, as a teacher, he is gifted─within minutes he helped the group work through nuances in pacing, volume and pitch relationships that made a tremendous difference in their final performance. There were one or two moments of fast-handed flash but Lang was very focused on bringing out the color in the students’ playing.
It was endearing to hear Lang Lang relate how, at age 17, he got his big break from GMC executive director, Zarin Mehta, whom he considers one of his great mentors. Mehta, at that time, was in Chicago, working with the Chicago Symphony, and was president and chief executive of the Ravinia Festival. Lang Lang was a student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Having heard Lang Lang audition at length on a Tuesday for the following year’s Ravinia festival, Mehta called him up and asked him to return to Chicago on Saturday to play with the Chicago Symphony for their “Gala of the Century,” as a last minute substitute for André Watts. The piece─ Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Lang Lang’s intensity, delicacy, fabulous technique and absolute control through those unforgiving tempos in that performance launched his career.
Lang Lang has also long been championed by Joan and Sandy Weill, who met him in 1999, when he was 17, and gave a stunning performance at Carnegie Hall for significant donors. Over the years, they have become musically and philanthropically entwined and have become friends. Since 2008, Weill has been on the board of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and it was Lang Lang who convinced him to invest the money ($12 million) that finished the concert hall that was ultimately named Weill Hall. Lang Lang also suggested that Zarin Mehta would be perfect for the executive director position at Weill Hall.
The afternoon was also a great success in audience building. Afterwards, there were lots of kids asking their parents if they could come again and the season brochures were flying off the stand.
Now Smell this─ This past January, Lang Lang launched his first fragrance, “Amazing Lang Lang,” for men and women (90 to 100 Euros and initially available just in Europe). I didn’t get close enough for verification but the two scents apparently share notes (pun intended) of jasmine, kyara wood, and pepper.
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