Showing posts with label Lang Lang. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lang Lang. Show all posts

Friday, April 03, 2020

Off the wall in 10,000 steps

It's Friday, apparently - not that I'd have guessed. The days are measured out in porridge, coffee, soup, tea and job-lots of 10,000 steps and by 9.30pm I am knackered and ready for a good long sleep. How do I normally manage, out at 3 or so performances a week, back at 11pm or later, navigating busy trains and the throngs of central London?

The 10,000 steps is Tom's insistence (I'd be quite content sitting at my desk checking the book edits all day). Generally, I can't keep up. He is loving his time off with a passion. He does yoga, practises the violin all morning, goes to Waitrose a couple of times a week, puts on the washing, sometimes goes running or demands a good long walk in the park, and has been doing most of the cooking while I'm trapped in 1812 tussling with Luigi and Josephine. I've always known he has more energy than I do, and now I'm glad and grateful that someone has the oomph to mow the lawn.

And so to Immortal... The editing is going pretty well. The big issues are coming out in the wash, so to speak, and I am ever more impressed with the job that the doughty structural editor has done on my 135000 words: where she has made big cuts, I first of all stare with dismay, but then read the new version and think "ah, riiiight..." - because she has found ways of allowing certain things to speak for themselves, instead of being spelled out, which is something I should know but can't always spot from up close. Josephine's first husband's waxworks museum is a case in point. The book is haunted by his ghoulish image of King Ferdinand IV of Naples. The glass eyes of ETA Hoffmann's Dr Coppelius are never far away. But you will need to go and read Hoffmann to learn more about this.

I am continuing with daily (almost) readings from Ghost Variations as my personal Jessanory on my new Youtube channel. Each day I upload 13-17 mins of it around 5pm. The filming is done with PhotoBooth on my computer and it is pretty amateurish, not least because I can't be bothered getting glammed up and the cats may wander in in the background at any moment. Meanwhile, my evening reading is Anthony Trollope's The Warden, which is such a laser-sharp picture of small-town politics and fat-headed journalism that it could almost have been written this century. So with this mental mix, tempered by high anxiety, last night I had a nightmare: I had been filmed for a TV interview with Lang Lang and some other pundit and something went awfully wrong and the video of me was so terrible that some newspaper website ran it whole as a shaming exercise. I woke up shaking and relieved to discover that all I really have to deal with is a global pandemic. I might need to avoid Lang Lang's recordings for a few days.

And so we plough on. I have a few things to write and some of the concerts we had planned for this year are now going to take place next year instead (touchwood). All is not lost. It is still springtime and this weekend is going to be sunny. Enjoy it, and stay safe.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lang Lang mobilises support for China's earthquake plight

Lang Lang is throwing his pianistic weight behind the plight of rural Szichuan province in China, which has suffered a devastating earthquake.

He writes on his Facebook page:
An IMPORTANT post, my friends. There has been a terrible earthquake in China that has killed hundreds and injured thousands. I have personally made a donation and ask anyone who can, to also help the poor people in this horrible tragedy. To help encourage everyone, this is what I'll do - let's have an auction! For whomever donates the most (message me to let me know) I will film and post one of my favorite encores and dedicate it to you! The next 10 get signed CDs. Please share this, tell your friends... Come on, let's get those donations rolling in for a great cause and what I promise will be a great video!
Here's that link again:

Monday, December 31, 2012

And JDCMB's top ten posts of 2012 are...

Here are the top ten stories on JDCMB this year. Good to see that among the matters that interested you most were some of the world's top conductors, several exciting young artists and quite a few of the quirky JDCMB pieces that you won't find anywhere else - not least, the April Fool's Day spectacular. Below, listed in reverse order.

Thank you, everyone, for joining me through the roller-coaster highs and lows of 2012 and here's hoping that in 2013 the comets shine bright!

10.  Socks for the Lilac Fairy?                                                  
 Why do balletomanes knit socks for their favourite dancers, but Lang Lang doesn't get gloves from the pianophiles?

Life-enhancing ways to behave at a concert.


Introducing Angelo Villani.

In which I sit in on the great maestro's conducting masterclasses.

Italian romantic in cravat triumphs at the UK's premier piano competition.

You're a pragmatic lot, dear readers, and you know when you're on to a good thing.

Or can there? A look at this year's finalists.

1 April, and it looked like we might all have to play to Gergiev. Delightfully, a few of you fell for this, lock, stock and subsequent red ears.

And in first place...

The maestro gets it all off his chest.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Socks for the Lilac Fairy?

The other day the Royal Opera House held a Q&A session on Twitter with two of the Royal Ballet's top stars, husband and wife team Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares. Fans tweeted their questions and at 5pm Marianela - everyone's favourite Lilac Fairy and Odette right now - and her lovely resident prince picked a selection and answered them online. The questions ranged from favourite roles/choreographers to issues about dancing around difficult sets to the challenges of a dancer's physical regime. One fan even asked Marianela what her shoe size is... because she wanted to knit her some socks.

It struck me that I've never heard a classical music fan offer to knit socks, or indeed anything else, for a favourite soloist. A test tweet I put out, pondering why nobody's yet offered to provide Lang Lang with home-made gloves, produced a flood of snide witticisms. One person said mittens would do better. Another quipped that perhaps Schumann's hand-stretcher would do him some good.

OK, so perhaps Lang Lang wasn't the best choice... and it was probably a little unfair on our dancers... But the attitudes of ballet fans and music fans to the top practitioners of their art is so different that I started wondering why.

Ballet fans queue outside the stage door for autographs. They send or even throw flowers (well, they used to, pre recession). They offer to knit socks. They want to know what the stars eat, or don't eat. They're disappointed yet concerned when a favourite dancer is off with an injury; they wish them a speedy recovery. They trot back to the same production time and again to test out the different casts and enjoy the compare-and-contrast process (our friends at The Ballet Bag often post about this). There's a high degree of sympathy and rather a lot of love. Ballet fans seem to be seriously nice about their enthusiasm.

And classical music fans? Be too successful a musician and they start to hate you. Be a woman and you risk having to fight a patronising, sexist atmosphere. Bring out a recording and someone will tear it to bits online if not in print. Give a concert and someone will bring in a recording device without your agreement - and the halls won't even stop them. Hold a political opinion and someone tells you to shut up and play, or shreds your musicianship because they don't happen to like your views. Suffer injury or be ill - especially if you're a singer - and you get a reputation for cancelling and letting people down. Hey, they've paid a lot of money for their seats and that apparently means you can't lose your voice even if you have. And you don't get true adulation until you're over 60. Our fans not only don't like their soloists; it often seems they don't even respect them. If you're a fan, be enthusiastic about a favourite performer and you're regarded as a non-critical idiot who's over-impressed, or suffering a post-teenage crush, or second only to a stalker.

Why this discrepancy? Looking at the questions for Marianela and Thiago on Twitter (hashtag #askthedancers), it seems that many come from people who themselves dance, professionally or semi-professionally or just for fun (like me), or did so as kids. They're concerned with issues of daily life: how do you eat, manage injury, spend your spare time if there is any? Ballet fans identify with the dancers. There's always someone they'd like to be, given the chance. They understand the processes better because they do it themselves, or have done at some point.

Now, I'm not saying that concert and opera-goers don't play and sing, because a lot do. Yet the degree of ignorance about what it takes to be a top-flight musician is much more extreme. Anyone can see how devoted, indeed possessed by the profession, a dancer must be; but some concert-goers don't even realise that a pianist has to practise every day ("Do you have a piano at home, then, love?" someone asked a well-known soloist friend of mine. "What's your day job? D'you work in a bank?").

The sheer physicality of musical performance is frequently downplayed in favour of the high-falutin' issues of poetry, philosophy, historically informed whatever, artistic fulfilment and so forth. That means that little consideration is given to, for example, performing conditions. The number of excellent musicians who have to face their craft being hobbled by the effects of freezing cold venues, lack of food or even tea, or lousy, badly-maintained pianos doesn't bear thinking about. International soloists travel much more than star dancers. Nobody seems eager to make air travel any pleasanter anytime soon, but the toll it takes on the body and mind can be severe. Why do we still expect soloists to function like automatons and regard them as unprofessional if they're unable to give 500% in an unheated venue on a snowy day after a long, stressful journey? Our lack of understanding of the profession means that we often don't let them do their best, even though that is all that they want to do.

Perhaps it is time to start communicating a little better regarding the absolute slog involved in a high-level musical career. Injury may not be quite as hefty an issue as it is for dancers, but it is really not that different. Being a professional musician involves intense physical labour, yet the number of performers who suffer serious injury or illness yet are simply denigrated for their own absence is quite alarming.

How to tackle these issues? Ideally, more people should learn to play musical instruments themselves. We need to identify more with the people who perform the music we love, and that means learning their craft from inside. Meanwhile, maybe we need to hold knitting lessons for classical music fans. My first pair of gloves will probably go to Benjamin Grosvenor.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Pianomania on the BBC

Yes, that is a picture of Lang Lang playing a piano on a flooded heath. As I always say, chacun à son gout. He made quite a pig's ear of the Beethoven 'Emperor' Concerto at the Lucerne Festival the other week, providing surface beauty aplenty, but turning it into nothing more than a series of pretty episodes and pulling it around so much that several times it nearly fell apart at the seams. I pitied the poor wind players when he was supposed to be accompanying them. My full review will be in International Piano in due course.

Lang Lang, though, is a phenomenon that's more than the sum of its parts: he has become emblematic of our day and age (as I've explained in a lengthy essay introducing DG's new boxed set of his complete recordings 2000-2009). He could have been the world's greatest pianist and ten years ago seemed set to become just that; perhaps he still can be, once the commercial phase wears thin and deeper waters begin to beckon.

And he is at the centre of a tremendous pianofest that's fast approaching on the BBC and up in Leeds. The Leeds International Piano Competition is kicking off shortly and Lang Lang is to be its "global ambassador" (though exactly why isn't clear, as it's not as if he were a past winner, or even, as far as I'm aware, a past entrant...).

The piano is rolling off to flood the BBC airwaves much more thoroughly than the pond above. The three-legged monster is set to eat up the schedules on Radio 3 and BBC4, with extensive coverage of the Leeds contest on both, a series of Monday evening piano recitals on Radio 3, a major focus towards those actually learning the instrument, and much more. The full wonder of the piano is something exceptional, something magnificent, something magical, and if this unique season of pianomania can help to bring the essence of it to a wider audience, that is terrific. Let's see what happens.

For TV, Alan Yentob has made a movie about...oh yes, Lang Lang. I wish he would make one about someone else as well. Lang Lang has been featured on plenty of films before now, yet the truly towering musicianship of such artists as Grigory Sokolov, Mitsuko Uchida, Krystian Zimerman, Andras Schiff, Murray Perahia, Radu Lupu and plenty more remains scandalously under-documented.

Besides, if you want an interesting story out of China, then talk to Fou Ts'ong. We hear a lot about how 60 million children in China have taken up the piano under the influence of "the Lang Lang effect". We hear a lot about "tiger mums". We hear virtually nothing any more about the fate of an entire generation of Chinese artists and intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution. And we should. (I think it's high time I unearthed my interview with Ts'ong for the old Classical Piano magazine in the mid-90s and re-ran this space...)

Wishing all the very best of luck to all the entrants at Leeds - and may the finest musician win.

Finally, at the risk of being accused of just posting the BBC's press release, I'm just going to post the BBC's press release (or part of it) and then you'll know what they're doing.

Discover a Suite of Piano Programmes on the BBC this Autumn
Saturday 15 September until Tuesday 6 November
This autumn, the BBC will be dedicating a suite of programmes to the music, people, history and beauty of one of the world’s most iconic instruments, the piano.
Piano Season on the BBC is a major six-week season celebrating a single instrument.  The season will explore the piano’s wide-ranging influence from the 1700s to the present day, as well as delve into the lives of the people behind the piano and the music created for it.
Highlights of the season include an in-depth insight into The Leeds International Piano Competition, a Jazz Battle live from Trinity Laban College Greenwich, a downloadable A-Z of the piano, Peter Donohoe’s 50 Greats, an online masterclass for budding pianists and well-loved personalities from around the UK, such as Woman’s Hour’s Jane Garvey, Radio 1’s Dev and Olympic medal winner Samantha Murray, taking up the challenge of learning the piano for the first time, with eight of them taking part in the season finale, Gala Concert in Cardiff on the 29 October 2012.
The season begins with extensive coverage of the Leeds International Piano Competition with live broadcasts of the Final on BBC Radio 3 and a six-part series about the finalists on BBC FOUR.  The season will culminate on November 6th with a special episode of Imagine on BBC One focusing on Lang Lang as he turns 30.
The Leeds International Piano Competition on BBC FOUR will be presented by Suzy Klein, herself a pianist, and will showcase the six finalists and their concerto performances in full.  The series will also take viewers behind the scenes to discover why ‘The Leeds’ is admired worldwide, take a closer look at the mechanical marvel that is the piano, speak directly to the woman behind the competition, Dame Fanny Waterman, who has inspired a generation of young musicians and delve into what makes a world-leading concert pianist. With arguably one of the piano world’s biggest stars taking an ambassadorial role with the competition, we’ll also hear from Lang Lang on why ‘The Leeds’ still matters as it approaches its 50th birthday.
BBC Radio 3 listeners can follow the competition live with both Concerto Finals nights and the Sunday Afternoon Gala Concert broadcast live from Leeds. Piano Season on BBC Radio 3 continues with artists such as Lang Lang, the Labeque Sisters and Malcom Martineau sharing their musical inspirations, as well as hearing from experts such as David Owen Norris and Peter Donohoe. Programmes will feature some of the greatest piano music ever written by composers who themselves loved and played the piano; including Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Beethoven, Debussy and Chopin alongside late night jazz programming exploring some of the greatest names in jazz pianism.
Monday nights will be 'Piano Night' when BBC Radio 3’s Live in Concert will offer listeners a series of unique piano recitals, from different corners of the nation, given by an array of international artists. Past Leeds finalist Sunwook Kim will play Beethoven and Schubert and  Russian Evgenia Rubinova presents a programme of music from her native country; Ukrainian Alexei Grynyuk plays Chopin and Liszt; Pascal and Ami Rogé play French music for two pianos; while Radio 3 New Generation Artist Igor Levit performs Rzewksi’s  celebrated and fiendishly difficult Variations on “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”; Ashley Wass and Huw Watkins team up to perform Robin Holloway’s  pianistic tour-de-force “The Gilded Goldbergs”.
In BBC Radio 3 ‘s morning programmes, listeners will have the chance to hear the ‘50 Great Pianists’ – a short daily focus on one of the fifty greatest names from the world of pianism as selected by Peter Donohoe, while regular programmes such as ‘'Composer of the Week' will explore the lives of composers who wrote for the instrument, from Clementi to Rachmaninov.  Special guests and piano lovers including as Kathryn Stott, Valentina Lisitsa, James May, Alan Rusbridger and Benjamin Frith will be joining the regular BBC Radio 3 presenters through the season to talk about their passion and experiences with the iconic instrument.   There will also be online master classes, exploration of the historical and social history of the piano and an entertaining A-Z of the piano in BBC Radio 3’s late afternoon programme ‘In Tune’. 
Trinity College London and the ABRSM [Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music] will be helping budding pianists hone their skills in ‘110%’ on Friday nights.  We’ll be treated to great performances of Piano Syllabus pieces and hear from the experts on what make them so special and how to get 110% in their exams.
Later on in the autumn, BBC One’s Imagine will return with a special documentary presented by Alan Yentob on Lang Lang, arguably one of the greatest pianists of his generation, as he turns 30.  Lang Lang’s dazzling technique and musicality have inspired a generation of young pianists and delighted audiences throughout the world. Imagine follows him on an impressive schedule of concerts in Shanghai, New York, London and Berlin and reveals a personal story that began with great hardship and a family dream that nearly ended in tragedy.  In this auspicious 'Year of the Dragon' Lang Lang celebrates his 30th birthday at a concert in Berlin with Herbie Hancock, opens his own piano school in China, plays for the Queen at the Diamond Jubilee, performs sell-out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, and becomes the first classical musician to headline at a British pop music festival.
BBC FOUR will also celebrate Lang Lang being appointed as the Global Ambassador of the Leeds International Piano Competition with two one-off documentaries on Friday 2 November. Lang Lang at the Roundhouse will give viewers an opportunity to see this stunning performance at London’s legendary Roundhouse, recorded at the iTunes festival in July 2011.  Lang Lang performs a remarkable Liszt recital as the only classical music artist in a true rock-star surrounding, next to international pop stars like Coldplay, Adele and Linkin Park.  And Lang Lang: The Art of being a Virtuoso follows Lang Lang through China, the US and Europe and offers a glimpse into life on tour with the superstar.

Photo credit: BBC/Steve Brown

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Heifetz Face"

Yesterday I mentioned the syndrome of "Heifetz Face" - the directing of energy into the music rather than into emoting or histrionics. It doesn't mean the performer demonstrates nothing at all of his/her ongoing musical response, just that he/she keeps it to a minimum and the music speaks for itself - often rather well. Here are a few examples of it.

Heifetz himself, of course:

Daniel Barenboim:

Yuja Wang:

And here is the opposite.

Lots of different ways of doing things, of course. It's all part of life's rich tapestry.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lang Lang to play Latitude

Lang Lang is to be the first classical pianist to take a headline slot at the super-cool Latitude Festival in Suffolk this July. Latitude, which runs 12-15 July, extends from pop and comedy to drama, literature, science and film, all of them going full-out on the different stages at Henham Park, near Southwold, for the duration of the four days. Apparently this is Lang Lang's first appearance at an outdoor festival. More info here.