With Eschenbach and Houston Symphony Wednesday night
Reckless and controlled, Versace-wearing Lang Lang shakes up the classical musicscene
In a classical music scene where artists must increasingly distinguish themselves by means other than artistry, Lang Lang isn’t having any problems.
Last year, Lang became a household name (at least, in many countries in the world) after he appearing in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games. But he’s not resting on his laurels this year, at least not when it comes to fashion.
In press photos for his upcoming tour with the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra, he’s wearing his preferred Adidas LL sneakers, his perfectly punked-out hair framing a head thrown back in musical inspiration. What does he choose from the closet when he’s got a show that night?
“I like to wear Versace on stage,” he told me recently via e-mail.
“Bravo,” I thought to myself. If only more pianists would acknowledge that music is also theater.
Wait, the “Schleswig-Holstein” Festival Orchestra? Before you think that’s some kind of agricultural group celebrating those black-and-white cows who want to move to California, let me explain. The Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra is a youth orchestra. Well, sort of a youth orchestra. The auditions to get in are tough, to say the least. None of its members is older than 27 years, like Lang, who was born in June, 1982.
Houstonians will have a rare chance to hear Lang and the ensemble play Wednesday night as part of the Houston Symphony season at Jones Hall. In addition to the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto, the program includes Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony” and Beethoven’s “Seventh Symphony", all conducted by former Houston Symphony music director Christoph Eschenbach.
I find Lang intriguing, in part, not only because he is stylish but because as an artist he is often reckless. I don’t mean that he’s sloppy; rather, he knows how to take risks while still making the piano behave. It’s always in good taste, yet there is a sense of danger in his playing. In an interview on YouTube, Lang describes his efforts as “very emotional, but in control.”
I think the “control” part is always lurking back there somewhere, however at the same time a devil with a pitchfork is coaxing the right side of his brain to go a little further. It is for these reasons that I am anxious to hear him perform the Prokofiev Third, a concerto that the composer began working on just around the time Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” premiered in Paris.
In our e-mail correspondence, Lang agreed with my description of the concerto’s third movement (“Allegro, ma non troppo” or “fast, but not too fast”) as a sort of argument between the soloist and the orchestra.
“It’s a very exciting, and strange humor argument,” he said. But I wanted him to explain further. What is the exact nature of the argument, and when he “plays” this argument, is he expressing himself or is he expressing Prokofiev? “I’m trying to express my sincerity to what Prokofiev wrote on the score,” he replied very simply.
Those who might like to listen to the piece before the performance are encouraged to check out Evgeny Kissin’s Grammy Award-winning recording with Vladimir Ashkenzy conducting. That is, unless you prefer to stay on Lang’s wavelength. His favored pianists for the Prokofiev Third are Gray Graffman and Martha Argerich.