Lang Lang Is Back: A Piano Superstar Grows Up
It was late one afternoon this spring, and Madison Square Garden’s 19,000 seats were empty as Billy Joel and Lang Lang began jamming onstage.
那是今春的一个下午，接近傍晚的时候，麦迪逊广场花园(Madison Square Garden)的1.9万个座位空无一人，比利・乔(Billy Joel)和郎朗开始在台上即兴弹奏。
Pop’s piano man had invited the superstar classical pianist to make a guest appearance at his sold-out April show at the Garden, and they were rehearsing a duet of Mr. Joel’s “Root Beer Rag” during the soundcheck, taking it from fast to blisteringly fast.
流行音乐的“钢琴手”邀请了这位古典钢琴巨星作演出嘉宾，参加他在4月的一场满座演出，在试音期间，他们排练了乔的《根啤拉格》(Root Beer Rag)，曲子的速度从快变成了极速。
Then they started goofing around. Suddenly they were trading riffs from Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. They teamed up on some Bach. Finally, with Mr. Joel’s band looking on in surprise, the two launched into the thunderous opening of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
It was as good a sign as any that Mr. Lang ― the world’s most famous, and bankable, concert pianist ― still has his chops, after a career-threatening injury to his left arm in 2017 sidelined him for over a year.
After rebuilding his strength and technique, he is returning in earnest this fall. He is again appearing with the world’s leading orchestras. He is again promoting a new album ― his first in several years ― as few other classical musicians can, with appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Good Morning America.” And he is again arousing the suspicion, if not outright hostility, of the classical field by applying lessons from the pop world to his career, trying to navigate a delicate balance between popularization and artistic integrity.
在力量和技术恢复之后，他将于今年秋季正式复出。他将再度与世界各地的一流交响乐团同台。他将再度以很少有古典音乐家能做到的方式推广一张新专辑――他几年来的首张专辑――在《吉米・法伦今夜秀》(The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon)和《早安美国》(Good Morning America)露面。他也将再度引起古典音乐界的怀疑，甚至彻头彻尾的敌视，即通过把流行乐界的经验教训运用到自身的职业生涯中，试图在大众化与艺术尊严之间取得微妙的平衡。
But he insists he is not the same man, or musician. Mr. Lang ― who long maintained that his greatest fear was an injury that would leave him unable to play the piano, and therefore, as he once put it, “render me useless for life” ― spent his forced sabbatical taking stock.
“I used the time,” Mr. Lang said in an interview, “to rethink everything I do.”
His health crisis hit at a pivotal moment. Mr. Lang, who recently turned 37, is at an age when he must navigate the next leg of the journey from wunderkind to mature ― even veteran ― artist. Such transitions are not easy, noted the conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, a mentor of Mr. Lang’s and a former child prodigy himself.
“Either the child goes and the prodigy remains,’’ Mr. Barenboim said, “or the prodigy goes and the child remains.”
That Mr. Lang has taken the first course is evident to the conductor Franz Welser-Möst, the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, who has known the pianist since Mr. Lang was a teenager.
“We all go through phases, and I think there was a time when success sort of started to have a negative influence on him,” Mr. Welser-Möst said. “Then he was out of the business for health reasons for quite some time, which was a shock for him. Since then he has changed as a musician. Before he would sort of go for the show-off, virtuoso stuff ― he was looking in the music for the virtuosic side of a lot of these pieces. Now he has matured. A lot.”
His pounding bit of soundcheck Tchaikovsky with Mr. Joel aside, Mr. Lang is taking a break from the crowd-pleasing Romantic war horses he made his name with. Critics sometimes complained that those pieces brought out a hammy side to his playing; now he is winning praise with a reduced schedule of more refined works by Mozart and Beethoven. Next season he will concentrate on Bach. In June, he married Gina Alice Redlinger, a pianist he met in Berlin after one of his concerts a few years ago, and is thinking about starting a family.
除了试音时跟比利・乔大弹柴可夫斯基，现在的郎朗已经暂时放下观众所乐见的浪漫派战马，也就是那些让他成名的曲目。批评人士有时会不满于这些曲目让他的演奏展现出过火的一面；如今他开始因减少场次、更多呈现莫扎特和贝多芬的精练作品而受到赞誉。下一季，他将专注于巴赫。6月份，他与几年前在柏林一次音乐会后认识的钢琴家吉娜・爱丽斯・雷德林格尔(Gina Alice Redlinger)结婚，并在考虑生儿育女。
“We went through some difficult times already,” he said, adding that Ms. Redlinger had been a support when he was injured. “And she helped me along.”
After spending more than half his life as a touring musician, he has decided to give fewer concerts. He plans to cut back to 70 or 80 a year, down from the 130 or so he had been doing before his injury ― because he wants more time to, well, live his life, as well as to devote himself to educational projects.
“I need those extra days, because otherwise you can’t really focus on everything you do,” he said.
It’s not that the old Lang Lang ― which is to say the young, flamboyant Lang Lang ― has disappeared completely.
What other classical soloist, after all, would be making a cameo at a Billy Joel concert? Who else could get Steinway to name a new line of grand pianos for him this year, the way guitar makers have long named instruments for stars like Eric Clapton and Les Paul? Or work with the director Ron Howard, who is developing a biopic based on Mr. Lang’s rags-to-riches upbringing in China? Or hold his wedding at Versailles with a party Marie Antoinette might have envied, and several columns’ worth of boldfaced names as guests?
毕竟，还有哪位古典乐独奏者会在比利・乔的演唱会上客串演出？还有谁能让施坦威(Steinway)用自己的名字命名全新的三角钢琴系列，就像吉他制造商长期以来用埃里克・克莱普顿(Eric Clapton)和莱斯・保罗(Les Paul)这些明星的名字为吉他命名一样？还有谁能跟导演罗恩・霍华德(Ron Howard)合作（他正在根据郎朗在中国的成名经历制作一部传记电影）？或者在凡尔赛宫举行婚礼，举办一场连玛丽・安托瓦内特(Marie Antoinette)都会嫉妒的派对，嘉宾名单里列着好几栏如雷贯耳的名字？
But much has changed ― down to his practice routine.
Mr. Lang attributed his injury to overwork: He had been touring with several demanding pieces as he taught himself Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, written for Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I. Mr. Lang wound up with tendinitis, as dangerous for a pianist as it is for a pitcher. It got bad enough that in April 2017, he decided to cancel a few months of concerts to recover; in the end, he took more than a year off.
These days, he is more careful. “I’m going back to basics more,” he said of his new approach to practicing, which he does for an hour each morning and evening. “It’s healthier.”
On a recent morning in midtown Manhattan, he strode into a studio and carefully went through major and minor scales in every key. But now he stopped from time to time to stretch, pausing to slowly rotate his head over his shoulders, or to cross his arms over one another in front of his chest.
“I want to build more muscles,” he said, “but without hurting.”
A black S.U.V. eventually picked him up to take him to Newark for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new piano lab that the Lang Lang International Music Foundation had donated to First Avenue School ― which has also received several dozen Roland digital pianos, along with Lang Lang Piano Method instruction books ― as part of the foundation’s multimillion dollar commitment to expanding access to music education in underserved communities.
As the car snaked through traffic, he spoke about his new album, “Piano Book,” his first release since he returned to the Deutsche Grammophon label ― in part to take advantage of the better promotional opportunities available from being part of the Universal Music Group juggernaut ― after several years with Sony Classical.
当汽车艰难地穿过堵塞的街道时，他谈到自己的新专辑《钢琴书》(Piano Book)，这是他在索尼经典(Sony Classical)旗下数年后回归德意志留声机(Deutsche Grammophon)厂牌发行的第一张唱片――部分是因为该厂牌隶属于庞大的环球音乐集团(Universal Music Group)，可以提供更好的推广机会。
His choice of repertoire on the album is almost a taunt to those who have found his artistic choices overly safe: “Piano Book” is a collection of short, mostly greatest-hits pieces, like Beethoven’s “Für Elise” and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”
对于那些认为他的艺术选择过于安全的人来说，他在这张专辑中选择的曲目几乎是一种嘲讽：《钢琴书》收录了一些短小的作品，大部分都是最热门的杰作，比如贝多芬的《致爱丽丝》(Für Elise)和德彪西的《月光》(Clair de Lune)。
“A lot of people were like: ‘Are you serious? You’re playing ‘Fur Elise?’” Mr. Lang said.
But, he added, he recorded them because, quite simply, he likes them ― and because, even though such chestnuts are played by students all over the world, it is not always easy to find quality recordings.
The album was also engineered for music’s streaming age. Since big streaming services generate revenue each time a track is played, they reward albums with many short tracks over those with fewer long ones, as with most symphonies and concertos. Within four months of its release in March, Mr. Lang’s “Für Elise” recording had been streamed 5.1 million times on Spotify.
Mr. Lang was born in 1982 on a military barracks in Shenyang, China, where his father, who played the erhu, a bowed Chinese instrument, had a job as an Air Force musician. His parents got him a piano when he was still a toddler, and he often cites a Tom and Jerry cartoon, “The Cat Concerto,” in which cat and mouse fight through Tom’s attempt to perform Liszt, as an early influence.
郎朗于1982年出生在中国沈阳一个军营里，他的父亲曾在空军演奏二胡，一种用琴弓拉奏的中国乐器。郎朗还在蹒跚学步的时候，父母就给他买了一台钢琴，他经常说卡通片《猫和老鼠》(Tom and Jerry)中的猫鼠大战时，汤姆试图弹出李斯特的《猫协奏曲》(The Cat Concerto)，是他早年受到的一个影响。
But his parents struggled to pay for his musical education. When Mr. Lang was 9, his father left his job ― he was a police officer by then ― and moved with him to Beijing so that Mr. Lang could study piano more seriously. His mother stayed behind in Shenyang and worked so she could send them $150 a month, which they had to stretch to pay for rent, lessons and food.
His father pushed him relentlessly, Mr. Lang wrote in his 2008 memoir, “Journey of a Thousand Miles” ― and even urged Mr. Lang to kill himself after he was dropped by his first teacher in Beijing. “Die now rather than live in shame,” Mr. Lang recalled his father saying. Mr. Lang’s father thrust a bottle of pills at him and told him to swallow them all before ordering him to jump off their balcony.
Mr. Lang wrote that he almost gave up the piano then and there ― punching the wall to hurt his hands, and giving up playing for months. But the moment of madness passed; father and son reconciled; and Mr. Lang returned to the piano, going on to study at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and eventually earn a place at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied with its director, Gary Graffman.
郎朗写道，当时他几乎要放弃钢琴了――他用拳头击打墙壁弄伤自己的手，几个月没有弹琴。但疯狂的时期过去了；父子和解；郎朗重返钢琴，继续在北京的中央音乐学院学习，最终在费城的柯蒂斯音乐学院(Curtis Institute of Music)获得一席之地，他在那里师从院长加里・格拉夫曼(Gary Graffman)。
“Technically, he was incredible,” Mr. Graffman recalled of Mr. Lang’s audition. “He had this communication thing. Yes, his hands went up to the ceiling and that sort of thing, but even if you closed your eyes, there was really this communication.”
When he was 17, his big break arrived as he filled in at the last minute for André Watts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was an overnight sensation.
17岁那年，他取得了重大突破，最后关头填补了安德烈・沃茨(André Watts)的空缺，与芝加哥交响乐团(Chicago Symphony Orchestra)合作。他一夜成名。
His career took off just as China was emerging as a powerhouse of classical music: an important new market for recordings, a required stop on orchestra tours, and a major source of new artists.
But as the new generation of Asian musicians began to make inroads, they sometimes faced bias. In comedy sketches, Yuja Wang, another star pianist from China, has mocked the trope that Asian players have strong technique but play like soulless automatons. Mr. Lang said that his emotional, expressive style may have been in part a reaction to the stereotypes.
“They were saying that Asians were kind of cold, that they were reserved,” he recalled. “From the very beginning, I always tried to do more.”
He did. And with dazzling technique, exuberant showmanship, canny marketing ― and by making the most of opportunities such as playing at the opening of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 ― he became a superstar. Like other classical artists, he endorsed a Swiss watch. Far more unusual? He had a line from Adidas named for him, and played with Metallica.
But prominent critics, many of whom had initially been impressed by his talent, began regularly decrying what they perceived as tastelessness in his playing. Anthony Tommasini, the chief classical music critic of The New York Times, skewered Mr. Lang’s 2003 Carnegie Hall recital, writing that his playing was “often incoherent, self-indulgent and slam-bang crass.” In 2015, John Allison complained in The Telegraph that Mr. Lang played Chopin with “a vulgarity seldom, if ever, heard on the London concert platform.”
但一些著名乐评人开始经常批评他，认为他的演奏毫无品味，其中许多人最初对他的才华印象深刻。《纽约时报》首席古典音乐评论家安瑟尼・托马西尼(Anthony Tommasini)猛烈抨击郎朗2003年在卡内基音乐厅的演奏，郎朗的演奏“时显散乱，自我陶醉，有种张牙舞爪的粗俗”，他写道。2015年，约翰・艾利森(John Allison)在《每日电讯报》(The Telegraph)上抱怨说，郎朗演奏的肖邦“有着鲜见于伦敦音乐会舞台的庸俗”。
But audiences ― and, as important, leading maestros ― continued to be impressed. Mr. Welser-Möst recalled that when Mr. Lang came to Cleveland several years ago to play Bartok’s demanding Second Piano Concerto, the pianist asked him for help with some Mozart.
Mr. Welser-Möst said that he responded by testing Mr. Lang, saying that he would coach him in Mozart sonatas if Mr. Lang would come to the stage an hour and a half before the Bartok concert.
“And he was there,” Mr. Welser-Möst said. “That shows what kind of discipline he has. He was already an enormous star. I don’t know many people who would have that kind of humility.”
Mr. Lang has tried to balance that humility and curiosity with Metallica, Mr. Joel and “Für Elise.” It’s not always easy. Classical music may lament its increasing marginalization from the broader culture, but it is often also wary of popularizing efforts. Even Mr. Lang admitted to occasional doubts.
“I really want to carry classical music into some new areas,” he said. “But sometimes I think, maybe it’s too far? Maybe I should pull back a little bit?”
The violinist Itzhak Perlman ― whom Mr. Lang cited as an inspiration for his balance of populism and artistry, along with Luciano Pavarotti and Yo-Yo Ma ― said that he always thought hard when deciding to dip his toe in something outside the core repertoire, like klezmer.
“Some people will say, ‘That’s cute,’ and some people will say, ‘Oh, how can you do something like that, you’re a classical musician,’” Mr. Perlman said. “Personally, I always remember what my day job is.”
And so, a few weeks after his cameo at the Garden, Mr. Lang was back at his day job, playing Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto at the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden, Germany, with the Berlin Philharmonic and its incoming chief conductor, Kirill Petrenko. He said that he and Mr. Petrenko spent nearly two hours going over the piece together “almost note by note.”
Shortly after, in May, he played the same work in Los Angeles with Gustavo Dudamel. There, it was part of a cycle of Beethoven’s five piano concertos; Mr. Lang was originally scheduled for the full cycle, but withdrew from all but the Second as his recovery continued.
Any doubts those cancellations raised about his abilities were dispelled by his nuanced, delicate performance. Mark Swed, the classical music critic of The Los Angeles Times, wrote in his review that it was “something people may well be talking about for years.”
他精细、微妙的演奏，让取消其他曲目可能引起的能力质疑一扫而空。《洛杉矶时报》(Los Angeles Times)古典音乐乐评人马克・斯威德(Mark Swed)在评论中写道，这属于“那种人们很可能会谈论多年的演出。”
“This was not so much Lang Lang returning,” he added, “as Lang Lang arriving.”
Mr. Lang said he was already making plans to return to the Romantic repertoire. But first he is spending a season focused on Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, one of the most intellectually demanding, austerely unfussy works in the canon ― an immersion planned before he got hurt.
And he has other dreams, beyond big-statement virtuosity: to accompany a singer in Schubert’s song cycle of heartache, “Winterreise”; to revisit Brahms; to play new music if he can find the right fit; and perhaps to try and compose something himself.
“Maybe I will start with some children’s songs,” he said, laughing. “Easier! Safer!”
For now, though, Mr. Lang is happy just to be playing again. He said that he had been frightened right up to the opening bars of his comeback concert last year at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in the Berkshires.
“It was really a little weird to play the first eight bars ― the most weird eight bars in my life,” he said. “I was like, Am I going forward? And then after eight bars, it was: Let’s go!”