Q&a Lang Lang - The superstar classical pianist on playing Latitude, wanting to work with Jay-Z, staging his own UK festival & more
Born in China, pianist Lang Lang is something of a superstar in the classic music world playing packed out shows with the globe's best orchestras, while he has been hand picked to performance in front of presidents, prime ministers and royalty (most recently The White House and at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace. Not bad considering the young piano player was once urged by his father to consider taking his own life at the age of nine after a tutor dropped him as a pupil. Taking a break from playing recitals at the Proms or Carnegie Hall, Lang Lang has been booked to make a special appearance at this year's Latitude Festival (12-15 July) on the Waterfront Stage. In an exclusive Q&a, Lang Lang explains why he will be mixing it with the likes of Elbow, Paul Weller and Bon Iver in a field this summer.
Hi Lang Lang, how the devil are you?
"I just turned 30 and celebrated in style with a concert in Berlin, playing together with Herbie Hancock . I came on stage to take a bow and was totally taken by surprise when Herbie and the orchestra started into Happy Birthday with the 6000 audience members singing along. It was the most special moment."
For people who don't know you yet, how would you describe yourself?
"Dedicated to music. Living for playing music and enjoying music every day."
You're something of a superstar in the classical world, what made you decide to slum it at a music festival?
"Classical music is not something that should be seen as having a special status, it is music that has all the excitement of any and every musical style. I am just looking forward to playing live in front of an audience that have spent their hard earned pay to be entertained and excited."
Will you be camping?
Are you expecting anything different at a festival that perhaps you don't get at the concert halls you usually play?
"Will there be people swimming in the lake then? Interesting to know what Liszt might sound like under water?!"
Do you see a connection between the music you play and that of the other acts at the festival? If so, what?
"I don't write the music I play, but in the same way that great rock and pop songs are often performed by people who have not written what they are playing, my aspiration is to give an emotion to an audience like a Tom Jones or Roger Daltrey. I just have my hands and mind to do it rather than the human voice. The piano is my voice."
Are there any acts on the bill you'd like to see while you're at the festival?
"I listen to a lot of music that comes to me through artists I meet or hear about like any other music fan. I will be wandering around taking it all in, not just the music. But what I keep hearing from fans who come to my concerts that also like Radiohead or Nick Cave. I am lucky that I have many young people come to my concerts and want to share with me the things they like."
Are they any contemporary artists generally you'd like to collaborate with?
"Jay Z! And I spoke to Jools Holland and will.i.am recently about doing something. I am a great admirer of them both, and Alicia Keyes."
Your musical apprenticeship sounds quite traumatic, particularly the incident with your father and the pills, which would have caused many to give up. What is it about music and playing the piano that meant you stuck with it?
"I think it is the same as bands that try for years to get noticed and find an audience. I just perhaps had more work than play that they have to make a success."
Can you enjoy a performance and a day full of music like you're going to get at Latitude or is there always an element of discipline for you as far as music goes?
"Yes, both. The piano is like a voice, you have to treat it with respect, there are no short cuts. But now I have worked hard in the past I can concentrate on enjoying a performance."
As one of the world's most acclaimed pianists do you have some sort of crazy insurance for your hands and fingers? If so is there anything you're not allowed to do that you secretly wish you could?
"I love PS3, that is about as dangerous as I can get with my hands! I also enjoy watching football as I can't risk playing it."
After Latitude, where and when can we see you in the UK next?
"I would like to stage a festival for a day in the UK with other artists , hopefully next summer."
Finally, what music do you listen for fun?
"Jay-Z or any hip hop that has great words and rhythm. It is similar to playing the piano, one hand playing melody while the other keeps the music moving. I also love the music I choose to play like Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven... it has great emotion."
Paul Stokes @Stokesie
11:00 AM | 20/06/2012
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