Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Lang Lang's Tribute to Chopin
The concert was pretty much sold out, with a number of small children in the audience. Although they were a bit restless at times, on the whole they sat relatively quietly. It was the adults who were behaving badly, many of them trying to sneak pictures of the pianist on their cellphones. Luckily most of them were caught by the attendants with their red laser pens, but many managed to snap a few with the annoying click sounds to boot.
Although Lang has done much to promote China to the world, he hasn't been able to do much in terms of educating the Chinese themselves on how to behave at concerts.
Nevertheless, he was doing major public relations, as people who bought his CDs, including the latest one (what a coincidence), were given a poster of him that he would sign after the concert. Many people bought them but this resulted in people dropping posters and CDs on the floor during the show.
At the start of the performance, the conductor of the China National Symphony Orchestra came out to explain that the concert was celebrating the 200th anniversary of Frederic Chopin's birthday. He also pointed to a bust of the composer that was sitting on the bench of the organ above the stage.
And then a representative from the Polish consulate explained that Poland was so proud to have Chopin, that he was appreciated everywhere around the world. He added that Beijing was the first place to kick off the celebrations that would run all the way through next year, and invited everyone to travel there.
Chopin was a tragic figure, constantly ill and not having much luck with his love life. However, in his short 39 years, the pianist managed to compose a significant body of works that revealed his own style that was technically demanding, and contributed to the development of the mazurka, waltz, nocturne, etude, impromptu and polonaise to name a few.
To start off the program, the orchestra performed Polonaise in A Major that was brisk and percussion, with lots of drums, snare drums, cymbals and triangles.
Then the short Liszt Prelude No. 3 of 13 Symphonic Poems was more subdued before the main event.
The grand piano was rolled out and there was excitement when Lang Lang entered the stage. He was dressed smartly in a suit and shiny black shoes, complete with a slightly punky hairdo.
He performed Chopin's Grande Polonaise Op. 22 that began with a solo displaying much pomp and excited rhythm, his hands flying over the keys delicately deliberately. Gone were the over dramatic body movements, but he was still keen to almost dance with his feet or conduct with his left hand. Perhaps he will be the next Vladimir Ashkenazy, the pianist and conductor?
The intermission again was too short, with tons of people waiting in line for refreshments. I had purposely checked in my water bottle this time to avoid hassles, but later saw a woman giving her daughter a drink from a thermos! Why is security here so inconsistent?
Lang's next and final piece on the program was Chopin's Piano Concert No. 1. Some people in the audience clapped in between movements, and some remarked how he was getting a work out as he wiped his brow with a burgundy handkerchief.
However, that was not enough for the audience and he eagerly performed two encores. When the audience claps, he laps up the adulation, saluting the crowd and orchestra. For his first encore he was about to sit down but waited for louder clapping before finally settling in. He is still the consummate performer, seemingly at ease at the piano and performing in front of audiences and in this case too in front of a number of cameras, including a video camera on stage right next to him.
Perhaps he is maturing and seeing that while his influence has led to many Chinese children learning the piano, he still has to stay in top form, develop his artistry but at the same time make sure he doesn't burn out.
Nevertheless, he continues to wow audiences around the world, and is particularly loved in his home country, China's best ambassador for its soft power.