Lang Lang: how to be a superstar pianist

The 31-year-old reveals how he keeps mind and fingers sharp for a gruelling schedule, and how he takes ideas from literature and painting, ahead of his Dublin show

Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 01:00

By way of example, he mentions that he has been working on the edits for a Royal Albert Hall DVD. He has found something there that he doesn’t like. “Today I started a new way of doing it. It’s too late, it’s already there on the recording. But for the future, at least, I know at this place I will do something different, make an improvement.”

Dublin’s ‘beautiful hall’
His performances change from night to night. In Birmingham, “I was very focused. The concert hall was very beautiful, the piano was great. So it makes the whole package better. Dublin has a very beautiful hall: it’s a very European concert hall, very traditional – you can play really soft. I think it’s going to be a very precise interpretation. I’m looking forward to it. I really enjoy playing in that beautiful, green-coloured hall.”

The programme – Mozart’s Sonatas in G, K382, in E flat, K282, in A minor, K310, and Chopin’s four ballades – is one he has always wanted to do, and he learned it three years ago. “It was very challenging. It’s repertoire that everybody knows; every student plays the Mozart. So, how to make those things convincing to ourselves, faithful to the original composition, and to have our own voice. That takes some time to polish.”

His next programme, which he will play from September (Tchaikovsky’s Seasons , Chopin’s four scherzos and Bach’s Italian Concerto) will probably be ready to record this time next year. He invokes the ageing process of red wine to suggest a progress from freshness to maturity in the way his playing changes over time.

The process of bedding-in is even more complicated when it comes to concertos. “You need to work with the conductor, with the orchestra. Start with a smaller orchestra to try it out. You need to get the musical intervals in your ears. You really need to get what the clarinet will play, the flute will play, and once everything is in there, then you will really digest how to play, how to react to their sound. Otherwise you only kind of know what the orchestra is playing. You don’t know it inside out. You need time to study.”

This is coming from a man who describes himself as both a good sight-reader and a “very fast” learner. The reading and learning, he says, don’t mean anything at all, “maybe just that I will memorise faster. Some people take three months. Maybe I take one month. When you play in a concert, people don’t care whether it took you one hour or one year. They hear what it is.”

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