Rocking Beethoven

September 12th, 2009 by xgz

Which musician is more famous than the Beatles today, and even Adidas named a shoe after him? Surprise, it’s Lang Lang, the classical pianist from China. Lang Lang is a rare classical musician who has a rock star celebrity recognition around the world.

We went to Nashville this weekend to see Lang Lang play Beethoven’s piano concerto No. 3 with the Nashville Symphony. The concert was completely sold out. There were a lot of children at the concert. Perhaps as much as ten percent of the audience were children. Even among adults, the average age was also significantly younger than a typical audience for a classical music concert.

Lang Lang had a spiky hair, and looked even younger than his 27 years of age. His performance was flashy and accompanied by exaggerated body gestures. In the middle of the concerto, I noticed myself tapping the beat with my foot, and heard the tapping sound. So I stopped, feeling embarrassed. But the tapping sound did not stop. After looking around, I finally realized that Lang Lang was tapping with his left foot. He was tapping so hard that it could be heard over the piano and the orchestra. Most of the audience probably didn’t mind. They probably loved it.

I had heard this concerto many times in the past. But this one was very different. In fact, it didn’t sound like Beethoven at all. Beethoven was the grandmaster of classical music. His music is supposed to be forceful, grandiose, and sometimes angry. It is supposed to be serious. Lang Lang completely changed it. He made it joyful, happy. He made Beethoven sound like Mozart. No, Mozart was not romantic. It’s like he has turned the official history of the Three States period into the novel “The Romance of Three Kingdoms.”

Whether you like his treatment of Beethoven or not, you would at least be dazzled by the display of his skills. In Lang Lang, there is no subtlety.

Here are a couple of articles about Lang Lang:

4 Responses to “Rocking Beethoven”

  1. AvatarMei

    People who can popularize classical art or literature are good people, that’s just how I see it. It’s the essence of evolution — giving sufficient mutation to an old species to enable its core genes to pass down through different times. Lang Lang is a wonderful musician. He is loved by so many for a good reason. Here is a short news piece about his performance at Nashville.

  2. AvatarMei

    Here is a fun video of Lang Lang and his father playing a piece together, with his father doing the main melody on Erhu (Chinese 2-stringed instrument — my father can play it too!), and Lang Lang supporting with the piano.

  3. AvatarLara

    Chinese treatments of classical western music are really interesting! Last night we went to a Mid-Autumn Moon Festival put together by the university students, and one of the featured entertainments was the Chinese juggling team. Well whatever they’re called – each juggler has two sticks connected by a string, and an object that perches on the string shaped like a cylinder in a tight corset.

    Anyway, the music they performed to was a killer-serious sounding piano concerto (late Beethoven? Chopin?) with – get this – a disco track added. It was really cool, and hard to get out of my head. And the fun thing is that the disco track somehow emphasized the classical stuff, so that the piano part is thoroughly stuck in my brain this morning – in fact, it’s an earworm – but without the disco background.

    BTW, Beethoven isn’t necessarily supposed to be heavy-handed. That impression is from the dominance of recordings by conductors like Herbert Von Karajan, who made everything sound big, impressive and somewhat ponderous. If you listen to Beethoven’s chamber music (early-to middle-period string quartets, or the violin sonatas) you get a much more playful impression of the guy. Nobody can spend all their time being stern and tormented – unless they’re too mentally ill to compose!

  4. Avatarxgz
    Author Comment

    The juggling sport is called “抖空竹” (dou kong zhu) or “shake empty bamboo”. If you spin it fast enough it can actually make a sound. Here is a video of such a performance:

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