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Bach to the future with variations

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-22 08:02
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Lang Lang shares his knowledge and expertise to children from Beijing primary schools last Monday. The pianist will start a 15-city tour across China on April 2 to perform Bach's Goldberg Variations.[Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

Pianist Lang Lang talks about how playing composer's music has helped him in his growth as a musician and family man, Chen Nan reports.

Just as he always does, Lang Lang sits at a piano and captivates the attention of the entire audience last Monday afternoon in Beijing.

In front of about 30 children from primary schools across Beijing, the pianist gives them a masterclass, in which he shared his expertise and technique. Lang also told the children the story behind his work on Bach's Goldberg Variations, which will be featured in his upcoming 15-city tour across China.

"Do you have any tips on practicing?" asks an 11-year-old boy who has been playing the piano for six years.

"If you practice six hours a day now, you will practice two hours a day when you are my age as a pianist. If you practice two hours a day now, then you will practice six hours a day at my age," Lang replies. "What I am saying is that there is no shortcut and you just need to practice, especially the parts you are not good at."

"How did you train yourself to enjoy performing onstage?" asks a girl, who is receiving vocal training as a singer.

"I love the audience and I love the moments of being onstage. The more I perform in front of the audience, the more I love the stage," Lang says.

Outside the venue, a courtyard-turned-theater near Chang'an Avenue, a sandstorm hit Beijing. When the pianist woke up that morning, he described the scene as "romantic".

His mind is never very far from his music.

"When my career started, people called me 'whirlwind', and then they called me 'phenomenon'. Today, I am about to become a 'sandstorm'," says Lang with boyish enthusiasm and eagerness.

"I haven't had such a large-scale tour in China visiting 15 cities and I am excited. I want to interpret and share Bach's Goldberg Variations with the audience. It's like building a bridge to their hearts," Lang says.

Supported by the country's leading theater group, Poly Theater, the pianist will kick off the tour in Changsha, Hunan province, on April 2.

In September, Lang released an album of studio and live recordings of the Goldberg Variations. The live version was recorded in a single take during his March concert last year held at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig-Bach's workplace for almost 30 years and also the site of his grave.

Bach published the Goldberg Variations in 1741, and it is considered as one of the best compositions of this genre. Written for the harpsichord, the work consists of 30 variations and an aria.

Garand Wu, managing director of Universal Music China, says the album sold over 10,000 copies in China.

A native of Shenyang, Liaoning province, Lang started playing the piano at the age of 3. He began exploring the Goldberg Variations when he was about 10 years old.

"I fell in love with the Goldberg Variations when I saw a video of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould playing it. I was 10 years old and I wanted to try to play it," Lang recalls. At the time, he thought it was a crazy idea for a 10-year-old boy, but his father, an erhu player who quit his job to support his son's piano career, encouraged Lang to challenge himself.

Both father and son watched videos of child prodigies playing very challenging music pieces such as Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 3, and they then decided to give it a try.

The idea of recording the Goldberg Variations started in 1999 when Lang enjoyed his international career breakthrough.

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