Wow, what an experience! An extremely well-known 30-something classical pianist from China, someone who has as much fame and following as a member of a circa late 90s/early 2000s boy band member, playing at a small venue like Koerner Hall in Toronto – when the guy typically plays with symphonies at larger venues like the World Cup, Grammys or Roy Thompson Hall. All I can say again is WOW!
Cover of the Season Gala program featuring Lang Lang
The event my mother and I attended was called “An Evening of Passion & Brilliance with Lang Lang” and included cocktails and dinner before the concert as well as (more) dessert and champagne afterwards (we both had early mornings the following day, so we left after the performance). The dinner, held at a smaller space in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s new wing, was consisting of a three course meal. The appetizer, a mushroom salad with arugula and oven-dried tomatoes, was excellent as were the following two courses. Since there was a post-performance sweets reception, dessert was smaller – a tower consisting of chocolate mousse in shot glasses and bite-sized lemon squares (I liked the squares much more than the mousse, personally).
Our three course dinner
The performance was about two hours, including an intermission. Our seats were excellent, on the second row and pretty much centre – probably better than the actual FRONT row. During the first half, Lang Lang played two pieces: Claude Debussy’s Ballade Salve and the half hour long Piano Sonata in B Minor (S. 178) by Liszt while the second half consisted of several Spanish composers. Lang Lang, as with many musicians, was very passionate while performing. There’s no mechanical play here. You can tell this is something he loves to do. In addition to the performance, Lang Lang was also presented with an honorary honorary fellowship to the Royal Conservatory for his philanthropic and mentorship work through the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. The program uses the Conservatory’s curriculum for their Keys of Inspiration, a public school program which introduces and trains kids in needy neighbourhoods in classical music, thereby improving their lives – similar to the El Sistema.
Of course, a performance from someone like Lang Lang is not complete without encores. Lang Lang played three pieces before the concert officially ended, including one piece by a Chinese composer. He received many standing ovations, and one member of the audience even even made the “I’m not worthy” gesture at the end.
This was both my mother’s and my first time seeing Lang Lang live. While I do not own any of his recordings, I have heard some either at other people’s homes/cars or through streaming services. I have, however, never explored much of his work. This will be changing. While I have yet to purchase anything, I just heard parts his latest recording, New York Rhapsody, which consists of New York-themed pieces by various American composers like Aaron Copland and the Gershwins. It is very interesting to hear him perform pop, jazz and Broadway, considering he is more well-known for classical piano. While it probably isn’t the best out of his records – he isn’t the only artist and can be overshadowed (if Lang Lang CAN be overshadowed) by vocalists – it is probably the best one to start with if you are not much of a classical music fan. I guarantee you’ll be transformed.