If one word applies to Lang Lang, to the musician, to the man, to his worldview, to those who come into contact with him, it is “inspiration”. It resounds like a musical motif through his life and career.
He inspires millions with his open-hearted, emotive playing, whether it be in intimate recitals or on the grandest of stages – such as the 2014 World Cup concert in Rio, with Placido Domingo, to celebrate the final game; the 56th and 57th Grammy® Award telecast two years in a row, where he performed with Metallica and Pharrell Williams; the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where more than four billion people around the world viewed his performance; the Last Night of the Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall or the Liszt 200th birthday concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Charles Dutoit which was broadcast live in more than 300 movie theaters around the United States and 200 cinemas across Europe (the first classical music cinema-cast to be headlined by a solo artist). He forms enduring musical partnerships with the world’s greatest artists, from conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Gustavo Dudamel and Sir Simon Rattle, to artists from outside of classical music – among them dubstep dancer Marquese “nonstop” Scott, king of the crooners Julio Inglesias and jazz titan Herbie Hancock. He even builds relationships with corporations who will help him get classical music to ever more people. And he builds cultural bridges between East and West, frequently introducing Chinese music to Western audiences, and vice versa.
Yet he never forgets what first inspired, and continues to inspire him: great artists, above all the great composers – Liszt, Chopin and the others – whose music he now delights in bringing to others. Even that famous old Tom and Jerry cartoon “The Cat Concerto” which introduced him, as a delighted child, to the music of Liszt – and that childlike excitement at the discovery of music – now surely stays with him and propels him to what he calls “his second career,” bringing music into the lives of children around the world, both through his work for the United Nations and through his own Lang Lang International Music Foundation.
It takes a special kind of dedication to come from a small Chinese town Shenyang, to travel to the big city as a small child and to win the attention of the country’s finest music professors…and then to leave behind your home country altogether to join the world-famous Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Lang Lang achieved all of these early on. He started playing piano at age three, won the Shenyang Competition and gave his first public recital by the time he was five, entered Beijing’s Central Music Conservatory aged nine, won first prize at the Tchaikovsky International Young Musicians’ Competition and playing the complete Chopin Etudes at the Beijing Concert Hall at 13. He left for America, Curtis and the great piano teacher Gary Graffman, and when his moment came, he was ready. That moment happened when, aged 17, he was called upon to make a dramatic last-minute substitution for the famous Andre Watts to perform in the “Gala of the Century,” playing a Tchaikovsky concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It made him what journalists like to call an “overnight star,” and the world’s finest concert halls quickly beckoned.
Today, his resumé reads like a bestseller. (Indeed, his autobiography, Journey of a Thousand Miles, has been published by Random House in eleven languages, and was released to critical acclaim. As part of his commitment to the education of children, he released a version specifically for younger readers, entitled Playing with Flying Keys). He has been heralded as the “hottest artist on the classical music planet” by The New York Times, has played sold out concerts in every major city in the world and is the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic orchestras.
Time Magazine has included Lang Lang in the “Time 100,” the magazine’s annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, naming him as a symbol of the youth of China, and its future. Lang Lang is the cultural ambassador of the cities of Shenzhen and Shenyang. And if the Chinese passion for piano isn’t solely due to him, he has played no small part as a role model to encourage more than 40 million Chinese children to learn to play the instrument – a phenomenon coined by The Today Show as "the Lang Lang effect." Steinway Pianos, for the first time in their century-and-a-half-long history, named a piano model after a single artist when they introduced “The Lang Lang Piano” to China. That piano, specially designed for early music education, is now on its fifth iteration.
And the child Lang Lang was and who, perhaps, is always with him, would surely have approved of the way he gives back to children around the world. His volunteer activities include mentoring rising young talented pianists, convening 100 piano students at a time in concert, performing for sick children in hospi¬tals, delivering classical music recitals in underserved and remote communities, and donating his musical talents to raise awareness of other charitable causes. These charitable efforts have led to the launch of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, with its goals of cultivating tomorrow’s top pianists, championing music education at the forefront of technology and building a young audience through live music experiences.
In December 2007 Lang Lang was guest soloist at the Nobel Prize concert in Stockholm, an event attended by Nobel Laureates and members of the Royal Family. He performed as soloist in Oslo for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony and concert for President Barack Obama.
Lang Lang has made numerous TV appearances, including The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America, The Early Show, 60 Minutes, Wetten Dass…? and El Número Uno among many others. He has been featured on every major TV network and in news and lifestyle magazines worldwide, including such diverse publications as The New Yorker, Esquire, Vogue, The Times, Financial Times, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Die Welt, Reader’s Digest and People.
As well as President Obama, Lang Lang has performed for numerous international dignitaries including the former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, President Xi Jin-Ping and former President Hu Jin-Tao of China. Wherever he can, Lang Lang tries to give back. In 2013 he was designated by the Secretary General of the United Nations as a Messenger of Peace focusing on global education.
He is one of the world’s most prolific and highest-profile recording artists. Featured soloist on the Golden Globe® winning score for the film The Painted Veil, composed by Alexandre Desplat, he can also be heard on the soundtracks of The Banquet, composed by Tan Dun, and of My Week with Marilyn. All of his albums have entered the top classical charts as well as many pop charts around the globe. In 2007 he was nominated for a Grammy® Award, becoming the first Chinese artist to be nominated for Best Instrumental Soloist.
In February 2010 Lang Lang joined Sony Music Entertainment as an exclusive recording artist; his first album with Sony featured a live recording of his 2010 recital at Vienna’s legendary Musikverein (including a segment filmed in 3D). His next CD, Liszt, My Piano Hero and DVD Liszt, Now! celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the great composer, while 2012 saw the release of The Chopin Album, 2013 a recording with Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker of two masterpiece piano concertos of the 20th century, Prokofiev No.3 and Bartok 2, and 2014 an album devoted to Mozart. His recently released an album entitled Lang Lang in Paris features Tchaikovsky’s Seasons and four Chopin Scherzos.