I, along with 2,157 other lucky people, will be able to hear world-famous Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, live in Honolulu on Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 4:00 pm. I know exactly how many people will be there because there are exactly 2,158 seats at Blaisdell Concert Hall, and the concert is SOLD OUT! For this I’m happy and relieved—finally Honolulu has recognized that one of the world’s most recognized and popular classical musicians is worth hearing—although it will not exactly be the same as “hearing Lang Lang,” as you will read below. I would be absolutely mortified and embarrassed if there were acres of empty seats, as is usually the case with Hawaii Symphony concerts. (sigh!)
You see, Lang Lang injured his left arm a few months ago and the doctor told him he risked permanent injury unless he gave it a rest. Rather than cancel his busy concert schedule, he came up with a solution.
At the last concert, Hawaii Symphony Orchestra President, Michael Titterton, explained that one of Lang Lang’s students, 15-year-old Maxim Lando, will play the left hand part to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with Lang Lang playing with his right hand. I found a video on YouTube showing the two doing exactly this. Lando is an alumnus of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, founded in 2008. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of six and has played in the historic venue more than 15 times.
Years ago, I read Lang Lang’s autobiography (Lang Lang: Playing with Flying Keys) and rather than be horrified about his grueling practice schedule at age seven, I bought several copies of his book and shared them with the parents of my organ students. Here was his schedule:
5:45 am. Get up and practice piano for an hour
7:00 am. Go to school
12:00 pm. Come home for a 15 minute lunch, then practice for 45 minutes
After School: Two hours of piano practice
After Dinner: Two hours of practice, then homework
There was no question that Lang Lang’s overbearing father set the tone for the competitive atmosphere in which he grew up. I frankly could not get one scene out of my head, which happened when Lang Lang was 9 years old and dismissed by his teacher, declaring he lacked talent. Lang Lang had begun to accompany the school choir and one day the rehearsal ran late, so that Lang Lang missed his after school piano practice. His father was in a rage: “You’ve missed nearly two hours of practicing, and you can never get those two hours back … Everything is ruined!”
Despite Lang Lang’s protests, his father continued: “You’re a liar and you’re lazy! You’re horrible. And you have no reason to live. None at all!”
It finally came to this: “Dying!” he said. “You should die! Everything is lost! He even shoved a bottle of antibiotic pills at him, and screamed that he should swallow 30 of them right now in order to die. “Count yourself lucky that you don’t have to live in shame!”
Lang Lang responded by hammering the wall with his fists, “like a boxer attacking a punching bag.” He told himself to “pulverize the wall until every bone in his hands was broken.”
To tell you the truth, I gave Lang Lang’s book to my students’ parents, definitely not to have them emulate his father’s example, but to let them know that practicing is serious and needs to be more than “5 minutes per week,” which is what I suspect some of my students do.
As for myself, there were only a few times in my life when practicing consumed me—that was in 1968 when I was in Paris studying with Marcel Dupré, and the other times were when I was preparing all-Bach recitals, which took months of preparation.
I confess that I was not a very good student when I was taking lessons in junior high and high school. If I got an hour a week, that was doing pretty well. You may remember that I basically sightread all my piano and organ lessons throughout high school and my teachers were none the wiser, at least they didn’t say that they were aware that I was sightreading.
Wow, what kind of organist would I have become if I had really practiced while growing up?
Anyway, I am really looking forward to hearing Lang Lang live, even if it is only his right hand. Read the Honolulu Star Advertiser classical music writer Steven Mark’s interview here.