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"I bring music back to life" says pianist Lang Lang

 Chinese pianist Lang Lang plays one of the pianos from the
Chinese pianist Lang Lang plays one of the pianos from the 'Lang Lang Piano Series' during a news conference in Hong Kong April 27, 2007. REUTERS/Paul Yeung
— image credit: Reuters

By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Chinese piano wizard Lang Lang says he brings music back to life. And if sponsorships help his reincarnations reach a younger, hipper audience, he's for them.

"It's a very special moment that I try first to connect to the music and be as the bridge between the music which already exists and the piano, and to bring this music again from underground to reality," the 26-year-old Lang told Reuters.

"Every time you play a piece it's like you bring a life, a new life, and when the last note finishes it's disappeared."

Having a pair of Adidas trainers named for him and Audi cars to chauffeur him around town is not selling out but, for Lang, a way to help keep Mozart and Chopin in the public eye.

"It's a very expensive form to be in...so when a brand like, for example, Adidas or Mont Blanc likes to work with classical musicians, not just great sports stars or big Hollywood actors or actresses, I think it's a great thing," he said.

The rags-to-riches figure that is Lang, perhaps the best known young pianist on the international stage today, drawing sellout crowds everywhere, was in London for a 12-day marathon event -- sponsored by Swiss financial group UBS.

Working with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Guildhall School, Lang will oversee 100 elementary school pianists at a workshop, give a masterclass for advanced pianists and play two piano concertos, one of them the fiendishly hard Bartok Second.

The other is the British premiere of a piano concerto by Lang's compatriot Tan Dun -- composer of the soundtrack for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" -- that Lang said is not film music ("I wouldn't play film music") but is visual nonetheless.

The first movement? "Fire." The second? "Water." And the finale? "It's real kung fu fighting," Lang said, making a karate chop to demonstrate how Tan Dun advised him to strike the keys.

It's the kind of extravagant, over-the-top affair in which the sometimes spiky-haired but, for this occasion, smoothly coiffed Lang seems to specialize.

The rise and rise of Lang -- who began playing piano at age 2, decided classical music was fun when he heard Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 in a Tom & Jerry cartoon and performed the virtuoso-level Chopin Etudes in concert at age 13 -- is the stuff of legend.

His fraught relationship with his father, perhaps the pushiest parent in music since Leopold Mozart turned his son Wolfgang into a performing chimp for royalty, is well known.

Lang, in his book "Journey of a Thousand Miles," relates how his father, irate because his child had failed to show up on time to practice piano, snapped.

Screaming "there's no reason for you to live," he tried to force the youngster to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of "strong antibiotics" and jumping off a balcony.

These days Lang's father or mother accompany him on tours to one world capital after another -- a far cry from the days when his mother worked as a switchboard operator in his native city of Shenyang to support Lang and his former policeman dad in Beijing where Lang attended the music conservatory.

When Lang is not recording the Chopin piano concertos with Zubin Mehta conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (DGG CD 477 7449) he is performing them in New York -- again with Mehta -- or playing other repertoire around the world.

A less-than-enchanted reviewer for The New York Times wrote of that February concert that the sometimes overexuberant Lang "bounced on the piano bench as if he were riding a pony" -- to which Lang retorts there's no pleasing everybody.

"Seriously, the most important thing for yourself is to focus on the music and bring the best, sincere interpretation that you can imagine," he said.

And although one of Lang's mentors is Israeli-Argentine pianist Daniel Barenboim, a tireless campaigner for Arab-Israeli peace who gave a historic concert at the Cairo Opera House on Thursday, Lang does not see such a role for himself in China.

"I am absolutely non-political," he said. "The only thing I can do is I am working with UNICEF to try to raise money for children, and recently I started my own foundation, the Lang Lang International Foundation."

There's no way of knowing, though, what the future may hold in store for someone who has done so much in so short a time.

"That's the good thing about musicians or artists, you never reach your peak...you always need to look forward," Lang said.

"I wouldn't say this is the peak of my career, but this time is a very exciting time, a very exciting time of my career but I hope it will be even more exciting in the future."

(More information on UBS Soundscapes: Lang Lang and the LSO can be found on the website http://lso.co.uk/langlang)

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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