Tuesday, June 3, 2008
The Keyboard Master
I just came back from the second concert the Philadelphia Orchestra gave with pianist Lang Lang at the Poly Theater and it was fantastic.
Both music director Christoph Eschenbach and Lang Lang have the magic touch when it comes to creating the exact sound they want and doing it with purpose, meaning and artistry.
I arrived at the venue early and even wandered around the lobby area. It's a strange mix of boutiques selling everything from jewelry to CDs, a bar and even a restaurant are on the first and second floors. I find it strange since this place is used very often for all kinds of performing arts shows. The boutiques selling quasi Italian clothing hardly get any customers.
We weren't allowed into the auditorium until 7:15pm and even then a few people filed in late.
Staff were pretty strict about people having to put their cameras and other big bags into the coat check area. All water bottles were also confiscated at the entrance.
That probably explains why there weren't many camera flashes in the audience this time and on the whole most people were well behaved.
Or was it because a foreign orchestra was performing and the Chinese wanted to show they are just as cultured as everyone else?
The concert began with Eschenbach conducting the overture to Beethoven's Egmont, Op. 84, a lively short piece to whet the appetite. He didn't need sheet music, nor a railing to prevent him from falling off the podium. He was very much in control of the orchestra and himself.
What was interesting was the orchestra layout was a bit different than usual, having the bass sitting on the left side next to the violins, the trumpets, trombones and tuba in the back right. The cellos were more centre left.
I also recognized a few musicians, silver haired, who were the original players who came in September 1973. It was neat to have them play with the orchestra and it must have a lot of meaning for them to come again, to a city and its people who have changed so much since then.
Soon after the piece was over, the grand piano was wheeled out and the star of the show came on stage wearing an all black suit complete with shiny black pants and shoes.
He performed Grieg's Piano Concerto No. 4 in A minor. As soon as the orchestra began to play, Lang Lang was immediately immersed in the music. If he wasn't playing, he would move his left hand to the music as if conducting, his feet tapping the floor.
And when he did play, he displayed such range of emotions, from power and speed, to gentle caresses that just barely made a sound. For him, every note counted and he made sure he played each key with meaning.
He's such a consummate performer, probably because of that and he knows its not just about his fingers, but his body too. He's kind of the opposite of a ballet dancer -- every body part down to the fingers has to be doing something. And for him, his fingers are playing the keys, but his body moves with music too. It takes a certain amount of maturity to completely lose oneself in the music without worrying what the audience thinks.
After coming out on stage three times to an appreciative crowd who kept on clapping, Lang Lang finally sat at the piano, but not before saying a few words, that he hoped we enjoyed tonight's concert.
He sat down and played a piano piece by Rossini, a kind of lullaby. And when he reached the last note, he kept his finger on the key even after the sound had evaporated from the air and then he finally put his hands on his lap.
After a 15-minute intermission, the orchestra was back to perform Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in b minor Op. 74.
The third movement was so lively and ended with lots of drums, cymbals and a gong, that the audience thought it was over -- but Eschenbach still had his baton in the air. Even the American group behind me were embarrassed about clapping.
When the piece was over, we clapped and clapped, until finally he gave us an encore too, a short slow piece to help us drift back home and have pleasant memories of the concert. At times I was thinking, when do you ever get to see the Philadelphia Orchestra performing in Beijing! And with Lang Lang no less!
Only in China.