CULTURE Lang Lang: The man with magic fingers


Lang Lang: The man with magic fingers


07:33, December 28, 2018


Lang Lang, the first Chinese concert pianist to work with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, and top American orchestras. (Photo: CGTN)

For 36-year-old Lang Lang, the first Chinese concert pianist to work with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and top American orchestras, getting to the top was definitely not easy. You could have an overnight fortune, but no overnight career, he said.

Born in 1982, Lang started playing the piano when he was three. Believe it or not, he was inspired by the Tom and Jerry cartoons, one of the few TV series imported from the United States in China in the 1980s. 

According to him, the episode The Cat Concerto, which features Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, was his first contact with Western classical music. It also motivated him to learn the piano.

"The Cat Concerto from Tom and Jerry, the cartoon movie, I can still feel that it just happened yesterday," said Lang Lang.

From then on, he practiced the piano every day. When he was nine, Lang moved to Beijing with his father, who quit his job. He continued his studies in the Central Conservatory of Music, China's most prestigious music school. Realizing that he was competing with musical talents from all over the country, he worked even harder.

"I'd better catch up fast because they are all playing amazingly well," he recalled.

Beijing in the 1990s was becoming more vibrant. People had more choices and more opportunities to make better lives for themselves, while the younger generation was eager to learn about the outside world. In 1985, China opened its doors to those who wanted to study abroad at their own expense. Lang Lang was one of them. 

After six years of hard work and struggling together with his father in Beijing, during which he won major competitions including the Xinghai National Piano Competition in 1993 as well as first prize for outstanding artistic performance at the 4th International Competition for Young Pianists in Ettlingen, Germany in 1994, Lang Lang was ready to take the next step.

As the saying goes, "Hard work pays off." In 1997, at 15 years of age, Lang began further studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

"I was very lucky because I had the best teacher in the world, Gary Graffman," he said. "I learned a lot of goodies, the real juice of music from him. Once you're ready, there are always opportunities. And you have to catch it."

For him, those memories are still fresh.

Lang's professional career officially began in 1998. He has performed all over the world on average 120 times a year. It was a time in which he himself also did some growing up. In 2008, the young pianist established the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and started the "Keys of Inspiration" music class program in 2013 with the objective of igniting children's passion for music. Lang believes that every kid has the right to learn music.

His foundation is expected to help children around the world aim for a better future.

"We, as persons who have benefited so much for music making, we should take the lead and give back to the society,” said the pianist.

So far, there are 40 classes for 7-year-olds across the United States, teaching 16,000 students from eight different states. The Lang Lang Foundation even hosted a gala this October in New York attended by some of the city's biggest philanthropists to further promote the project.

In the last 20 years, Lang Lang has been traveling around the world but never misses the opportunity to spread the culture of where he comes from. He is very active on social networks, where once a week he holds a "Mandarin Monday" short Chinese course. With hundreds of millions of social network users in China alone, there can be little doubt about his popularity.

As well as being talented, hardworking and famous, Lang Lang also has a sense of responsibility. In addition to the many prizes he's won, Lang has been crowned with numerous accolades. These include being appointed an international goodwill ambassador by the United Nations' Children's Fund in 2004, an appearance in Time magazine's 2009 list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World as well as being made the vice president of the All-China Youth Federation by the Chinese government.

Lang confessed that he feels the pressure of the great responsibility he has been given. 

"Our generation born after the 1980s, we were so lucky in a way that we've got all the opportunities," he added.

As an old Chinese saying goes, “When you drink the water, think of those who dug the well.” This is a motto that Lang Lang has always held dear to his heart. After all, as he puts it, being a responsible human being is always more important than being a pianist.

Terms of Service & Privacy Policy

We have updated our privacy policy to comply with the latest laws and regulations. The updated policy explains the mechanism of how we collect and treat your personal data. You can learn more about the rights you have by reading our terms of service. Please read them carefully. By clicking AGREE, you indicate that you have read and agreed to our privacy policies

Agree and continue