Virtuosity of the highest caliber graced The Kennedy Center Concert Hall this past Saturday afternoon as renowned piano superstar Lang Lang returned to perform at the established Washington venue for the first time since 2012.
Lauded for his “total mastery,” the 26-year-old Chinese pianist has taken the world by storm, having performed with all of the named international orchestras and keeping with the world’s greatest artists and conductors, both inside and outside the classical sphere of influence. Educated at the Beijing Conservatory of Music and the Curtis Institute, Lang Lang’s key motive in his music and his life is self-styled “inspiration,” probably what has led to the New Yorker calling him “the world’s ambassador of the keyboard.” Indeed, it is his special charisma and flair, in conjunction with his immense prolificacy as an artist and performer that has only increased his broad appeal.
Yesterday, the audience was treated to a special performance best summed up as charming, appropriate to an afternoon enjoyment. Titled Fantasy & Fate, the repertoire of the afternoon varied across the full spectrum of impressive solo piano works. Beginning in the Baroque era, Lang Lang brings a stolid touch to J.S. Bach’s Italian Concerto, BWV 971, a concerto-form piece despite its lack of orchestral accompaniment. The fast-slow-fast three-movement structure provides an immediate glimpse of the perceived lightness and ease of Lang Lang’s playing, dancing through the repeated theme of the first movement, moving through a slower, poignant ‘Andante’ second, and finally the rapid dance of the final Presto, an urgency leading to a neat finish.
The highlight of the event was undoubtedly Tchaikovsky’s masterwork The Seasons, Op. 37bis. A direct reflection of its apt title, the piece is a twelve-part evolution that floats its way on a journey through each month of the calendar year. Tchaikovsky is well known for his programmatic portfolio, whose lyrically named pieces are descriptive of the imagery and narration spun through the connection of notes of the music itself. Seasons, in particular, holds a special place amongst all of Tchaikovsky’s collection, being a rare instance where the young composer deviated into the realm of solo piano and away from his usual orchestral and stage works.
Lang Lang initiates us with ‘January (At the Fireside)’, a peaceful beginning reminiscent of exactly as it describes, an idyllic evening in. The progression of the twelve-part work holds no qualms in jumping across style, mood, and tempo to follow the prompts of its movement titles. ‘February’ is much more upbeat and lighthearted, taking us to the ‘Carnival’ of it’s tagline, and so forth.
The Tchaikovsky is not inherently a flashy piece, nor is it meant to be performed as such. Yet, it is in fact an even greater testament to the musicality of the artist as he is able to inject such nuance, subtlety, and absolute on-point technicality to the performance. Lang Lang executes each movement with the highest level of perfection. ‘August (Harvest) and ‘September (The Hunt)’, in particular, were well received for their relative aggressiveness and fast pace, Lang Lang bringing both to an exciting and emotive sweep of an ending in both sound and physical motion. They are a perfect example of the magnitude and controlled yet passionate quality – wholly unique – of his stage presence.
The second half of the performance featured four of Chopin’s well-known Scherzos, each progressively more brilliant than the next, as was Chopin’s tendency in his creations for solo piano. Lang Lang impresses all with a showing of his more virtuosic side, receiving a standing ovation in particular after Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op 31, undoubtedly the most recognizable of the set of four. Yet it is in his encores that Lang Lang’s personal whimsy shows through, performing two fun little pieces that dazzle with the artist’s nimbleness of finger: a Chinese piece called Seaweed Dance, and Mozart’s much famous Rondo alla Turca. He embodies Mozart’ impishness in the second encore, teasing the audience by jumping into the keys with no preamble, playing with the tempo in a push-pull for dramatic effect, and finally, finishing with a flourish to a full house standing ovation. I speak for all present when I say, we can’t wait for Lang Lang’s return.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Lang Lang, Fantasy & Fate performed for one night only on Saturday afternoon, March 7, 2015, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall – 2700 F Street Northwest, Washington, DC. For tickets to future Kennedy Center events, visit their calendar of performances.
Lang Lang’s website.