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Lang Lang returns to 'favorite' venue

By Julian Shea in London | | Updated: 2023-11-28 00:04
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Chinese piano virtuoso Lang Lang has told China Daily he "feels like he is playing in a Roman colosseum" as he returns to London's Royal Albert Hall for three performances in November.

The 41-year-old, who is one of the biggest stars in the classical music world, has also crossed over to playing with artists including heavy metal band Metallica and singer Pharrell Williams, and has become a regular at the West London venue since his debut there in 2001.

"My first ever performance there was in the BBC Proms concert series, playing Rachmaninov's 3rd piano concerto, and having played there getting on for 30 times since then, it's definitely one of my all-time favorite venues to perform in," he said.

Although it is best known as a classical music venue, the Royal Albert Hall draws a huge variety of performers and artists, from stand-up comedians to Cirque du Soleil, and has even hosted the Miss World competition and sumo wrestling.

"It is a classical music venue but also stretches beyond," Lang Lang said. "It's perfect for award shows, jazz, pop, rock'n'roll, even tennis matches. Its versatility is a testament of greatness."

This month, Lang Lang took center stage in two performances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and his wife, the Korean-German pianist Gina Alice Redlinger, drawing on his more usual repertoire, focusing on the work of composer Camille Saint-Saens.

"Naturally, every time I play at the Royal Albert Hall it's different, because the program is different – there was one recital where I ended up doing almost 10 encores," he explained. "Sometimes it's playing a concerto, like this time, or last time I played Disney music. I've also shared this stage with Italian signer Andrea Bocelli, and American jazz musician Herbie Hancock."

But there is a third, less regular, appearance yet to come, one that is definitely out of the ordinary for Lang Lang.

He will be appearing at the Royal Variety Performance, this year's edition of a tradition of shows encompassing a wide range of entertainers of all kinds that dates back to 1912.

The 2023 line-up ranges from multi-award-winning musician and actress Cher, to comedian Tom Allen, and the military band of the Welsh Guards regiment.

Lang Lang will not be performing alone, however, but alongside Lucy, a blind neurodiverse 13-year-old girl from Yorkshire in the north of England, who became a household name in the United Kingdom this year through her stunning performance on reality show The Piano, where pianos were set up across the country with hidden cameras, to see who sat at them and performed.

Although there was no competition winner, Lucy emerged as the star of the series, and was invited to perform at King Charles III's coronation concert at Windsor Castle.

"I'm a big fan of Lucy," said Lang Lang. "Her talent and passion for music remind me of the everyday beauty in this world. Her playing makes all the difficulties wash away. I'm always happy to work with her again."

He said that playing surrounded by other types of performers was an artistically stimulating experience.

"I always enjoy exploring different possibilities through music. Jazz, traditional Chinese music, and contemporary electronic music, each offer fresh ideas not found in the other.

"It's important for me to always be thinking ahead. Though as I grow older, I find myself prioritizing what I am best at and enjoy the most – playing classical music. Still, the classical world is an enormous space, and I'm always exploring new repertoire. Recently, I've been learning music by the great French composers."

He admitted that the lost live performance years of the pandemic had "certainly made me more appreciative and grateful to be able to participate in (concerts and tours) now", and revealed that his favorite hobby to break up the routine when on the road is trying local food wherever he goes.

Appropriately enough for someone who is playing with as bright a young talent as Lucy, Lang Lang said the opportunity to inspire the next generation is one of the things that keeps him going, and that he would most like to continue doing.

"I would like to do more educational outreach activities – helping young artists to achieve their dreams is very rewarding," he said. "Personally, I am always pushing myself to perform at the highest level I can and spend as much quality time with my family as possible. It's important to find the right balance."

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