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Lang Lang: A maestro's melody of philanthropy and musical inspiration

By LINDA DENG in Seattle | | Updated: 2023-10-16 10:16
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Pianist Lang Lang and conductor Peter Oundjian join the Seattle Symphony on stage for a program at Benaroya Hall in Seattle on Sept 29. Provided to China Daily

Lang Lang, the renowned pianist, educator and philanthropist, has etched his name as a preeminent global advocate for the arts in the 21st century.

Currently embarked on a tour across four countries, his upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Oct 12 is eagerly awaited.

Before his mesmerizing performance with the Seattle Symphony on Sept 29, Lang Lang took a moment to share his dedication to piano playing, his fervor for piano education and philanthropy and his vision for fostering musical exchange between China and the United States.

A night to remember in Seattle

On Sept 29, Lang Lang was the special guest artist during the Seattle Symphony's 120th season opening, which marked the commencement of the 2023/2024 Silver Anniversary celebrations.

The performance featured a captivating repertoire including John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine; Saint-Saëns' Second Piano Concerto; and Respighi's evocative Pines of Rome.

This concert was also part of the special program to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Benaroya Hall.

Lang Lang affectionately referred to his return to the Northwest city as "a reunion of a big musician family". For him, it was a heartwarming opportunity to reunite with old friends from more than two decades ago and to perform together and celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Lang Lang's connection with Seattle runs deep.

"I've been visiting Seattle for 23 years, starting with my first recital at the University of Washington campus in the spring of 2001. Back then, as a student at Curtis, I stayed in my classmate's house in Seattle," he recalled.

"It was a beautiful visit, marked by the city's smaller size, charming allure, oceanfront views and refreshing ocean air. I truly cherished those moments," Lang Lang said.

"I love performing here. It evokes beautiful memories and a sense of nostalgia. I feel a special attachment to this orchestra because I have known many of my old friends here for over 23 years. It's like going back to my teenage years, even my childhood."

Bridging musical worlds: East meets West

During one of his encores, Lang Lang played the classical Chinese piece Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake (Pinghu Qiuyue) as a tribute to the Mid-Autumn Festival and to convey the profound beauty of Chinese musical compositions.

For Lang Lang, classical Chinese music is not just a childhood memory; it's an integral part of his musical identity and expression. He hopes that the audience can experience a modern interpretation of Western classical music while discovering a harmonious blend of Eastern and Western musical styles through his performances.

"I believe that music transcends time and cultural barriers. I strive to keep the freshness of today while respecting the great traditions of the past, aiming to strike a balance between them," Lang Lang explained.

"Classical music offers countless incredible melodies and harmonies, which is why it has endured for the past 300 years. I want to ensure it remains vibrant and relevant in today's society, resonating with newer, younger audiences. This is another goal I seek to achieve through my music."

His love for Chinese music is rooted in his childhood memories.

"As a child, I constantly listened to Chinese folk music, influenced greatly by my family, especially my father, a professional erhu player. Growing up, I was exposed to a rich tapestry of Chinese music, featuring various traditional instruments. My passion extends to Chinese classical music, which I aim to introduce to the world stage," Lang Lang said.

A symphony of philanthropy

Beyond his stellar career, Lang Lang is on a mission to inspire young talents worldwide through educational and charity programs. He believes in providing opportunities for children and dreamers with a passion for music, empowering them to dare to dream and take action.

His Lang Lang International Music Foundation (LLIMF), founded in 2008, and Lang Lang Arts Foundation (LLAF), operating in China since 2018, are dedicated to educating, inspiring and motivating the next generation of musicians.

The foundation's programs, which provide access to music education regardless of one's background, have impacted children worldwide.

In collaboration with schools and educators, Lang Lang strives to make a positive impact in each city he visits.

"It's not just about money; many musicians can contribute by teaching classes at these schools, and sometimes, it's about providing companionship, not just financial support," Lang Lang said.

The foundations' initiatives range from piano labs in schools to projects focusing on the therapeutic effects of piano on children with autism spectrum disorder.

As he continues to expand his philanthropic efforts in Europe and North America, Lang Lang said he believes that music has the power to unite people from diverse backgrounds, creating a bridge of understanding and appreciation.

"When you bring together different styles of music, you can feel the tremendous power of music's ability to connect us," he said.

In the United States, the foundation's reach extends from the East Coast to the West Coast. In China, more than 100,000 students in 105 schools across 24 provinces have received music education through LLAF's program.

"Our mission doesn't end here; we're committed to expanding our presence further. We aim to uncover hidden talents in additional states and foster collaborative exchange programs that bring together young musicians from both China and the United States," Lang Lang said.

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