Passing security with a simple nod
upon entering New York’s Manhattan School of Music for Lang Lang’s master class
today I think, “Wow, after years of checking IDs they finally decided nobody
really breaks into conservatories.” The New York Times describes Lang Lang as
the hottest artist on the classical music planet, which confuses me, mainly because
I never really associate the planet with classical music. Global warming, yes.
The Discovery Channel, perhaps.
Lang Lang, the 28-year-old
wunderkind pianist from China’s Liaoning Province is a phenomenon of
accomplishments. From playing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony to the White
House, from Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations to Advisory Board Member
for Carnegie Hall, from Golden Globes to Grammy nominations, and the list goes
on and on. Steinway named pianos after him, Mont Blanc appointed him its
chairman of culture, and one can only wonder how long before the famed Italian
car company from Sant’Agata Bolognese will change its name to Lang-borghini.
Borden Auditorium is brimming with
pianists, piano teachers, piano students, and even that most feared of
categories, piano moms. A Master Class is a very particular kind of venue in
which the participants have the benefit of performing in front of a live hall,
and the audience has the benefit of seeing them publicly humiliated immediately
afterwards. Imagine going to a show starring Carey Mulligan and immediately
following the show have her on stage with Angelina Jolie tearing her
performance to shreds. Or simply imagine
being on the show Britain’s Got Talent.
Pleasant? Not really.
Kind and colourful
Thirteen-year old Michael Davidman
comes on stage and rips through Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 10. Exciting and
emotional playing. Lang Lang is kind and colourful in his critique of Davidman’s
playing. I had imagined an enormous personality coming between him and the
music, but that is not the case. He talks about timing and direction. He
demonstrates at the piano. He is
good. Very. The audience laughs when he
compares a particular phrasing to getting lost “like in a bad website.” I think
about the fact that Facebook has been down almost an hour and wonder how many
friendships must already be adrift?
I slip out at half time knowing how
mobbed Lang Lang will be after the class. Heading downtown I start thinking
about Franz Liszt. How when he heard the
great violinist Niccolò Paganini perform at the age of 21 he completely reinvented
himself. How important teachers can be, no matter what shape or form they come
in. Liszt would have been happy with the Master Class format. He would have been proud of Lang Lang. Liszt
also inspired that frenzy-like atmosphere Lang Lang’s concerts generate. Had
they passed each other on Broadway, they probably would have nodded too. Understanding is a rare thing. Lang Lang.
Liszt Liszt. Really not so different after all.
Julian Gargiulo is a pianist and
composer who divides his time between wishing sabre-toothed tigers weren’t
extinct and making paper pirate hats out of his old bios. He also finds time
for touring with his new album mostlyjulian, working on his nonprofit
16000children.org, curating the Water Island Music Festival in the US Virgin
Islands and Crossing Borders of Hunter College in NY, and endlessly walking the
streets of New York in search of people to add as Facebook friends.
Julian Gargiulo is a pianist and
composer who lives in New York City and
tours with his new album, mostlyjulian. He also has a non-profit,