What Lang Lang did next

What Lang Lang did next


norman lebrecht

February 02, 2010

No sooner had I broken the Chinese pianist’s label switch on Bloomberg than Google flashed up his new deal with Bombardier, makers of Lear jets as its brand ambassador for 2010. ‘Flying on Bombardier business jets allows me to reach audiences worldwide faster, well-rested and focussed,’ explained Lang Lang. So I guess we won’t be bumping into him again in the Easyjet departure lounge.

Before these coups, Lang Lang was in Davos last week, lecturing world and business leaders on ‘enrichment through music’. The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger thought he had ‘nothing very much to say’. More likely there was nothing much he wanted to say as brand Lang Lang builds its global reach. The pity of it was the his presence at Davos rather eclipsed that of Gabriela Montero, the Venezuelan wonder whose improvisatory pianism presented a real lesson for world leaders on how to play their way out of recession.

So what’s driving Lang Lang? Setting aside 21st century greed-is-good theology, people who know him well tell me he wants to be taken seriously. At DG, he did not feel that top brass gave him the respect they showed to Argerich, Pollini and Zimmerman – unsurprising, given the length and depth of their achievements, but Lang Lang at 27 is a man in a hurry to be top pianist. At Sony he will find little competition, except from the semi-retired Murray Perahia. 

The refreshing aspect of Lang Lang is that he has no hidden agenda. Next time I see him, if I ask him what went down at DG, he’ll be open, frank and engagingly undiplomatic. Buttoned-up Sony, who are refusing to comment on the deal, should be aware that their new catch is dynamite in more ways than they perhaps anticipated.  


  • Helen O'Brien says:

    How many classical musicians can lay claim to being a global brand? It’s still an untapped market. I suppose Nigel Kennedy is an example, but then it depends how the idea of a global classical brand is defined – is it comparative to popular music? It would be interesting to read further thoughts from those in the know.

  • Thanks Norman for keeping us in the know! This is interesting, and (if you are right about his reasons for ship-jumping) shows that there is still a difference between the (serious) classical world and the pop domain. Do you think that Lang Lang is consciously brand-building (does he know what that is)? Or just simply a young man desperate for attention?
    It’s also interesting what you write about the Chinese increase in taking music lessons as a result of LL’s activity. Here in Norway, despite the global success on the classical stage of Leif Ove Andsnes and Truls Mørk, the person given the most credit for a current rise in interest (among boys) for learning a musical instrument is Alexander Rybak, the classically trained violinist who won the Eurovision last year …
    NL replies: Good point, Alison. But Rybak is so outgoing and the others … a little shy, no? I wonder what effect Vilde Frang might have on young Norway.

  • Paul Somers says:

    My wife remembers Kennedy at Juilliard: a conservative button-down look and very polite. Not many years later I reviewed him in his newly minted persona as a punked out guy who genially dropped the “F-bomb” on the audience in talking to them.
    The blue-haired ladies in the audience forgave him (“as any grandmother would,” they said), and smiled at his goings on.
    His playing was first-rate, so in that respect he let his new persona rest on solid art.
    The first time I saw Lang Lang he was 14 years old and played the heck out of the Tchaik 1. No “persona” was present, just a very talented and quite musical young teen.
    The next time I was “in the presence” was at a performance when the full Lang Lang effect ruled the evening. Pre-teen and young-teen girls screamed when he walked on stage and of course during the bows after the Grieg.
    His playing, too, was first-rate. He was 19 or 20 at the time. As the phrase has it, “he took the Grieg to the bank.” Obviously he has since taken the phrase quite literally.
    Part of the rationale for both has been to attract a young audience to classical music. I’m not sure how or if that has translated into their fan’s interest in a broader spectrum than their own performances. I think it probable that Matt Haimowitz’s club dates are more successful in that endeavor.

  • Sanda says:

    With all due respect to Mr. Lang Lang, he is No Martha Argerich.
    Getting rid of competition ( Yundi Li) and demanding a certain kind of treatment, jumping ship if not pleased with what he thinks he desrves, only shows what he is made of, and why he will never be ARGERICH.
    She is the real deal, he is an act.
    I feel sorry for him despite his comercial success.