Lang Lang's Massed Piano Concert

at London's Royal Festival Hall - 22nd May 2011 

Chinese star pianist Lang Lang showed just how down-to-earth he still is when he came to the Philharmonie in Berlin in May 2010: He held a workshop where he worked with no less than 100 piano students on Schubert's Marche militaire No. 1 - relaxed and entertaining, but still with full concentration.

Introducing young people to classical music is something that lies close to Lang Lang's heart, so much so that he has set up his own foundation whose purpose this is. "Through music, I want children to see a different dimension of life," said the pianist. "I want to show them how music can help them realize their dreams," is how he described what is also one of the aims of the education project Zukunft@BPhil, which organised the workshop in the Philharmonie. In his own Berlin project too, Lang Lang - who was Pianist in Residence with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the time - wanted not only to work on a piece of music, but also to convey a message: the joy of playing together and the energy that this brings.

 

BBC Radio 4 Interview 

Radio 4 Interview.MP3


Massed Piano Event - My Own Perspective 

I arrived at London’s Royal Festival Hall on Sunday, 22nd of May, expecting to see 10 pianos on stage, soon to be played by 101 pianists, obviously to be in rotation – so I thought. I was amazed when I walked into the concert area to see far more than 10 pianos. I started to count them but I was having difficulty by the time I got to 40. It was announced later that there were 51 Steinway grand pianos altogether. Each piano had two piano stools placed in front.

Within a few minutes, the stage started to fill up with bodies – 2 to each piano. In all, there were 101 pianists, 48 of whom were 10 years old or younger –the youngest was 5, the eldest was 24 (I think!).


The forthcoming concert was presented by a compere who introduced the esteemed star of the show, Lang Lang, China’s most famous person (Yundi Li, another concert pianist is the second most famous person in China – ahead of their politicians).

The performers were selected from more than 500 applicants who were actually auditioned via samples of their work posted on You Tube.

Lang Lang led the concert; the idea was to create an orchestra of pianos complete with a conductor to keep them all in time. Before the concert began, the conductor was sitting right behind me. I heard him tell his mates, “I’m conducting this. I’ve conducted many pianists in my time, but until now, only one at a time, so this is new to me.”

During the pieces where all pianos were being played simultaneously, not all were playing in unison; they were split much the same way as the various instruments in an orchestra would play.

The initial piece, Marche Militaire in D by Franz Schubert, was played by Lang Lang’s Piano Orchestra, after which Lang Lang went on to introduce some individual performers to play solo on the big Model D Steinway (the one Lang Lang had been using).

The first soloist was a six year old boy called Alasdair Howell. He played Rondo Divertimento in D by Mozart (I bet most of his Lady Gaga loving friends can’t even pronounce this – BTW, GaGa is quite a pianist too as it happens).


 

Faye Evans 

The first soloist was a six year old boy called Alasdair Howell. He played Rondo Divertimento in D by Mozart (I bet most of his Lady Gaga loving friends can’t even pronounce this – BTW, GaGa is quite a pianist too as it happens).

The next piece to be played was Nocturne in C# minor by Chopin. A guy sitting behind me (the conductor’s mate) said, “No way! There’s no way a ten year old can play this!” I thought, “Yes they can!”

A couple of years ago, I saw on You Tube, a five year old Chinese girl called Tiffany Koo play this piece, in fact, she inspired me when I had previously given up on it. On this occasion, a ten year old girl named Faye Evans sat at the Model D and she played this piece more beautifully than I have ever heard it played before, even by adult pianists. It’s the piece that is played at the start of the movie called ‘The Pianist’ which is about wartime in Poland.

This is the part that left me open mouthed – half way through the piece, some of the less learned members of the audience started to clap loudly (it only takes one, then the sheep follow). I thought, “WHAT ARE THEY DOING? IT’S NOT FINISHED!”

This girl kept calm, kept her nerve and just carried on playing as if nothing had happened. The second half is also the more difficult, so I’m doubly gobsmacked by her composure. I think I would have fallen to pieces at this stage. So, two years ago, I was inspired by a five year old and encouraged to play this piece, but now, I’m inspired by a ten year old and encouraged to play it beautifully instead of simply going through the motions of hitting the right notes at the right time. I’m not too proud to learn from pre-teen children!!


Faye (pink dress) 

Next came Chopin’s Etude in G flat, Opus 10 No 5 (Black Keys). This was played by 10 year old Jackie Campbell. It was followed by 10 year old Ziying Zhang who played Aaron Copland’s The Cat and The Mouse, Scherzo Humoristique (1920) which I assume means it’s comedy orientated.

Back to Chopin: Polonaise No 6 in A flat which was played superbly by Lang Lang himself – a sterling performance I have to say. I started to learn this piece a while ago, but I stuck it to one side when I acquired the sheet music of Fantaisie Impromptu, one of my all time favourites, so I switched my focus to that piece (I haven’t quite mastered it yet folks). Just my opinion, but I find this piece (Fantaisie) more difficult to consign to memory, but easier to play than the Revolutionary; if that makes sense.....durrrr, maybe not! (digressing, sorry).

After the interval, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Allegro from Concerto No 1 in D Minor (is all Bach stuff in D Minor?); the soloists for this were Lang Lang, Lucy Wong (aged 18) and Drew Steanson (aged 18). I’m puzzled – how can there be three soloists? Surely you’re a trio; anyway, I’m digressing (again - it's my age). They were accompanied by Anthony Tat (13), Tom Zi Han Xie (13), and Rebecca Leung (12).


Next, Daniel Ciobanu (aged 19) played a piece I’ve never heard of: Bacchanale from Suite No 3, composed by someone I’ve also never heard of: Constantin Silvestri. The piece looked and sounded singularly complicated though and I have to say, he played it magnificently.

Etude Tableau in E flat minor by Rachmaninov was played by a 14 year old girl called Nino del Ser. To say she was brilliant would be quite an understatement. ‘Rachy’s’ music is among the most popular as fans of the 2nd and 3rd Concertos will gladly testify.

Toccata in E flat minor composed by Aram Khachaturian was played by Artem Akopyan (aged 23).

The penultimate performance was by the Piano Orchestra. This was extremely powerful – Allegro from Symphony No. 5 in C minor by Beethoven.

There was an encore, but sadly, I can’t remember what it was except to say that its brilliance sticks in my mind.

I’ve not heard of any likelihood of this concert being broadcast on television. There were professional television cameras in the venue, but I don’t know whether they were just to feed the large screen displays or if they were recording for future broadcast or commercial DVD. I hope it’s going to be at least one of those options, although I’m not holding my breath because there didn’t appear to be any sound recording equipment near the pianos.

A representative from Steinway (on Marylebone Lane W1) was there and heartfelt thanks were delivered his way. Imagine the work involved in bringing, installing and removing all of those pianos.

Finally, on the one hand, I think the world of classical music is so bright, we need sunglasses to view it and that is all thanks to Lang Lang who has single handedly inspired 40 million children in China (and other countries) to take up classical piano (how they were counted I'm not sure yet). So far, no rock or pop musician has ever made such an impact on young people, not even during the 1960s. How exciting is this folks?

On the down side however, I wonder what is going to become of all this talent in future when the kids grow up. With the best will in the world, classical music is a ‘minority sport’ followed by a tiny section of the world’s population (more female than male). I suspect we could be flooded by a gargantuan amount of pianists that could exceed the audience numbers. What a shame it will be if people with such talent end up stacking shelves in supermarkets or working in call centres. But, we'll wait and see.

Bill Ross

 

 

 

 

Still photos of Faye Evans kindly supplied by Peter Evans.