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Little needs to be said about this young Chinese whose name has become synonymous with musical excellence. Born in Shenyang, China, in 1982, he was a wonder-child who started piano lessons at the age of three. By the age of five he gave his first recital, playing difficult pieces like Liszt by heart, standing and stretching out his little arms for the keys because he was still too small to reach the pedals when sitting on the stool.

When Lang Lang was nine years old, his family moved to Bejing, to enable him to study at the Central Conservatory there. Financial sacrifice was in order. They lived in a small apartment without heat. 'All you could do in order to keep warm was practice, eat hot food, and sometimes my father would go to bed before me and warm up the sheets for when I went to sleep', the celebrated Chinese pianist remembers of his difficult beginnings. His first piano was Swedish made, not quite as sturdy as the Steinway pianos, and the little boy's ardent practice broke the strings. 'In the end, some thirty tones didn't work, which means that I must have broken about seventy strings,' recalls Lang Lang. 'I didn't mind, I just kept playing, and I replaced the missing notes inside my head.'

His extraordinary talent made him so famous in his home country that a biography of Lang Lang appeared, in Chinese, when the teenage pianist was only seventeen. The rest is history: move to Philadelphia, further studies there, numerous awards in Europe and a first step toward international fame when he auditioned for the Chicago Symphony in 1999 and was asked, at short notice, to replace Andre Watts who had become ill. Then, finally, his celebrated début at Carnegie Hall, New York, on 7 November 2003, which took not only the New York audiences by storm. Lang Lang played Schumann, Haydn, Schubert, Tan Dun, Chopin and Liszt, well enough for his worldwide career to take off like a rocket. Less than one year later, he is completely booked out, with a schedule that will keep him very busy indeed for a rather long time.

Lang Lang. Photo © J Henry Fair/Deutsche Grammophon
Lang Lang. Photo © J Henry Fair/Deutsche Grammophon

Translated into English, Lang Lang means something like: splendid, shining man. And this he is, indeed. These days, if you don't know Lang Lang it's almost as bad as not having an email address. He has been titled 'Pianist of the 21st Century'. And there he was, this young Chinese piano miracle, in the midst of Germany. Many had travelled from afar to see him, and many had been left standing outside: the concert hall was not large enough to house all the Lang Lang pilgrims. For those who were left outside, the German television station 3 Sat took pity and broadcast the concert live, throughout Europe, including some pretty impressive close-ups of Lang Lang's truly astonishing hands. The BBC, to satisfy British audiences, joined with a later broadcast date.

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Copyright © 19 July 2004 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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