Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Performing for the Superstar

In front: Li Zhongxin, Kate Lee and Thomas Chan

Pianist Lang Lang is in Hong Kong doing some promotional activities with Langham Hospitality Group as he is contracted as its ambassador. And one of the events he did this afternoon was a masterclass with three budding pianists in front of parents, teachers, fellow students and the media.

But before the piano sessions started there was the announcement of the Langham Lang Lang Music Scholarship if that wasn't enough of a mouthful. The award recognizes "exceptional talent and promise as a great pianist of the future" and in this case Lang Lang chose to give it to eight-year-old Li Zhongxin who looked like a five-year-old.

He was the first student to play for Lang Lang, performing a Chinese song called The Buffalo Boy and his Flute. Li was very serious at the keyboard, wearing a two-toned shirt, bow tie and suspenders. He even bowed sharply like a soldier and Lang Lang comically mocked his bowing technique.

Nevertheless, Lang Lang gave him a few pointers that his left hand had to be softer and play more lyrically. "Do you drink?" he asked, as the audience laughed, but Li just looked at him strangely. The child doesn't have enough life experience under his belt to have the affect of alcohol on his playing.

Lang Lang likened the piece to the Chinese Bach and explained it was similar to a two-part invention but that seemed to go over Li's head too. Lang Lang would "sing" with him as he played and then apologized for his "bad singing".

In any event, after a few tips here and there, Li's playing drastically improved and then his mini masterclass was over.

Lang Lang with Dr KS Lo of Langham Hospitality Group
Next up was Italian-born Kate Lee, a primary five student at Diocesian Girls Junior School who attempted to play Minute Waltz by Chopin but fumbled through it to the point where the chords played by the left hand didn't match the right. He stopped her and she explained that she had only learned the piece this morning which was a ridiculously tall order.

He gave her the sheet music but she still fumbled in the same places. Lang Lang stopped her again and instead asked her to play what she performed for him yesterday -- The Cat and The Mouse by Aaron Copeland. She played the piece beautifully which probably helped her regain her confidence.

But he wanted to go back to the Minuet Waltz. He pointed out that she played the keys with hands that were flat on the keys rather than curved which didn't help her in terms of moving quickly around the keys but also strength in the keys to give them more colour. She also needed to work on her left hand as the chords weren't clean and had to be light as it was a waltz.

Again, her playing improved as he picked up not only major issues with her playing, but also suggested subtleties that helped make the piece sound better. But he warned that she had to work much harder on the piece -- but really not bad if she only started playing it the night before.

After her session was over, Lang Lang announced that he had to go to the bathroom and the hotel PR instructing the photographers not to follow the superstar into the restroom.

A few minutes later he emerged saying he was feeling much better and was ready to listen to the last student, Thomas Chan, an 11-year-old who played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. Taking a backseat, Lang Lang played the orchestral part on the upright piano as Chan made an impressive performance.

It was the first time Lang Lang heard him play and he kept saying how Chan was very good and noticed how his hands were almost big as his own, matching them up. The boy was so serious he didn't do much except stare in front of the piano than watch Lang Lang try to make him laugh and loosen up.

Lang Lang posing with his "L" sign for Langham
Lang Lang said he only learned this piece when he was 13 so Chan was up two years on him. But again the way Chan placed his fingers on the keyboard it was too flat to get much strength from the keys as the chords are so critical in this piece. Also he noticed Chan's right hand's fingers weren't clear in playing every note. He suggested Chan play the sections slowly so that every note could be heard before playing it faster.

About an hour later the whole masterclass was over.

Throughout the masterclass Lang Lang was his playful and passionate self, trying to humour these kids into having fun with the piano -- and perhaps that was what was lacking in all three. They took on their tasks technically well, but did they really enjoy what they were doing? It was hard to tell.

But also were these children taught the proper foundations of playing the piano, or were they rushed through the syllabus to harder and more difficult pieces just to easily impress people?

If this is what music teachers in Hong Kong think is good, then that's a frightening thought. Talent is one thing, passion is another. And Lang Lang has the unique combination of both in equal measure.

He seems to be maturing in his interest in nurturing young talent, but perhaps Lang Lang should be focusing more on teaching them to love of music -- otherwise why play it?

1 comment:

  1. li yundi another great chinese pianist, a hong kong citizen-how come we have not heard much of him?