Ex-crackhead pianist takes a crack at Lang Lang

Ex-crackhead pianist takes a crack at Lang Lang


norman lebrecht

January 31, 2014

Eduard Laurel is an international pianist who, by his own admission, ‘ became a slave to crack cocaine in his relative youth’. Clean for the past six years, he writes a blog that maintains scrutiny on the ever-slipping critical standards of the New York Times. He’s also just got around to the new, self-acclaimed Lang Lang/Simon Rattle release:


lang lang rattle

 From the opening bars, what detracts from his bustling athleticism is his impetuous rhythm and erratic phrasing, his fast notes clumped together like locusts on the last ear of corn. Soon enough, Mr. Lang’s signature becomes apparent: willful, and comprehensible not as the efforts of an adolescent, but as a young child disciplined enough to control its tantrums. Perhaps this explains Sir Simon Rattle’s brittle, though enthusiastic, partnership.
   It could be argued that Lang Lang has a technique of some brilliance, but this chronicler finds it a disgrace to his trainers and handlers that at this stage of his prodigious career he will likely continue with barely a nod to the decorum, civility, and propriety of this art we call fine, much less delve into matters of taste, tradition or aesthetics. 

Agree? Dissent? Read on. You won’t be disappointed. Click here.


  • Refreshing to read something other than the usual sycophantic or “aren’t his fingers amazing?” write ups of Lang Lang.

  • Tony says:

    What a sad, transparently bitchy review. Says much more about the writer than about the performers.

    • Michael says:

      It would be refreshing not to learn anything about a reviewer other than an intrinsic confidence that they have the musical knowledge and experience to describe the relevant performance or recording, but sadly those days are gone. From the biography on Mr Laurel’s website “Mr. Laurel is perhaps the most qualified person to write about music today”. You don’t have to be modest when writing about your own talents, but you should steer clear of attacking Lang Lang as “the superstar of the galaxy, THE pianist of the moment”. The piece was simply an excuse to attack Lang Lang, dressed up in such pseudo-musicological gems as “how often can one thank the auxiliary percussionist?”

      Norman Lebrecht is of course rather more modest, but “self-acclaimed Lang Lang/Simon Rattle release”? Have Lang Lang and/or Simon Rattle actually been (self-)acclaiming this disc or was this yet another trivial dig at anything Lang Lang does?

    • Dear Tony, I hope you will buy this recording, then proffer an informed opinion!! All Best, Eduard Laurel

  • Jen Ellis says:


  • Ian Paton says:

    Looking at the cover art, will there be a follow-up with the final score – Prokofiev 5 Bartok 3?

  • Tony says:

    Bitchslap is a great word in Scrabble.

    Staggering that a serious newspaper would publish such a sour expression of jealousy.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Mr. Laurel “ended his relationship with crack” 5 years ago, after 15 years of addiction. “In his relative youth” stretched well past his 30s.

    Denial is a river in Egypt.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      No – Denial is not a river in Egypt. *The Nile* is a river in Egypt. Denial is *not just* a river in Egypt.

      I am 45 and I still feel “relatively” young…

    • Dear Mr. Boxwell, “Denial is a river in Egypt.” is graffiti I see often on 125th street! All Best to You, Eduard Laurel

    • Dear Mr. Boxwell,

      My crack addiction began at 29, and ended when I was 44. Personally, I have always felt relatively old, though I am honored Mr. Lebrecht thinks otherwise!

      Respectfully, Eduard Laurel

  • cindy says:

    When people who take art seriously and have devoted themselves to it dare to express their honest distress about Lang Lang’s lack of artistic integrity get dumped on by fans enslaved in the cult of personality: get your beer and popcorn!

  • Laurids says:

    In general, is media music criticism, with all its posturing and pompous aplomb, its spitefulness and joy in manipulation and in yanking us about, in its radical subjectivity and political biases,

    prehaps the most fatuous of human institutions? It is certainly a contender in an admittedly large field.

    • Dear Laudris,

      Forgive me to acknowledge your accusations of posturing. spitefulness, and manipulation. How strange that these qualities are the very ones I try so hard not to adopt! I appreciate your time and and effort; if you can, what do YOU think about Mr. Lang’s CD? All Best, Eduard Laurel

      • Andrew R. Barnard says:

        But Eduard, your “review” was a prime example of the arrogance and snobbery that gives music criticism a bad name.

        “His scales are as effortless as descending a slide with hands in the air; his octaves have the energy of a sugar-fueled kid on a jungle gym.”

        Exactly the kind of writing that serves no musical purpose but just tries to set up a perch for mudslinging. And it’s telling that you can’t handle any criticism of your criticism.

        One doesn’t need to hear the CD to recognize the demeaning nature of your review.

        All the same, I have heard the CD and reviewed it on Amazon, and find it to be incredible, as did most who approached it without preconceived biases about Lang Lang (or Rattle, for that matter).

        Let me just ask you up front: if you heard the CD blind, would you really have come up with the kind of far-fetched descriptions, like Lang Lang “can create splashing sounds, like a toddler in its bath”? All such statements point to the common tendency for critics to dislike Lang Lang’s image (which is admittedly showy and distracting) and hear everything he plays in the light of what they already think about him. Those of us who care to look beyond such silliness hear a musician who has flaws, like all of them, but one who is capable of producing inspiring music.

        One last note of interest: the very member of the Berlin Philharmonic you praise are crazy about Lang Lang. You should listen to principal oboist Albrecht Mayer give him words of unstinting praise. Those who don’t like Lang Lang are mainly critics, not actual musicians.

        • Dear Mr. Barnard,

          These are the concluding lines of Joseph Brodsky’s poem In Memoriam, from 1985.

          That’s why the snow, this poor man’s marble, devoid of muscle power,

          melts, blaming empty brain cells for their not so clever

          locks, for their failure to keep the fashion in which you,

          by putting powder

          on your cheek, had meant to look forever.

          What is left is to shield the skull, with raised arms, against

          idle glances, and the throat, with lips’ nonstop ” She has died, she has died,”

          while endless

          cities rip the retinal sac with lances

          clanging loud like returning empties.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            That’s pretty deep! What does it mean?

          • Dear Mr. Schaffer,

            Honored as I am that Mr. Lebrecht’s forum might allow an observation about Lang Lang to turn into a conversation on a powerful poem, it makes me uncomfortable to offer an intelligent analysis on a work of literature. Pleasing as it was that the recent serendipitous discovery of this work honorably discharged me of replying indecorously to Mr. Barnard, maybe an overriding interpretation could apply to all of us; the pianist, the critics, the observers. Could I hazard the poem’s theme is what lasts, and at what pain?

            With Apologies and Gratitude, Eduard Laurel

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            That’s pretty deep! What does it mean?

          • Dear Mr. Schaffer,

            Could one think empty ephemera doesn’t protect from the violence, the anguish of disappearance? Or, simpler, maybe, a fundamental hostility to those suffering loss?

            I was at a loss to Lang Lang’s recording, which I felt he was at a loss; I was at a loss to a commentator’s unreasoned appraisals; I am at a loss that it is not worth people’s time to dwell and think; much less than to hear, to listen. Here a cindy mentioned beer and popcorn. Is this what she means?

            All Best, Eduard Laurel

  • Canbridge says:

    So an ex-crack addict writing about a pianist who is far more successful than he is. You don’t have to be very intelligent to see what his agenda is. Will go down with all who hate Lang Lang for being a success, though. I do wish these pathetic people would keep their opinions to themselves rather than try to make a name by printing the vitriol.

    • Dear Canbridge, Do you mind sharing Lang Lang’s quailities with me? Thank you, and with

      All Best Wishes! Eduard Laurel

      • Canbridge says:

        I don’t think Lang Lang needs any defence from me. He has all the support he needs. From people who actually buy his music making. Not from an embittered critic. After all, who ever built a monument to a critic?

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Mr Canbridge – the problem with your response to Mr Laurel’s review is that, while one may disagree with his findings and the very forceful and colorful way he expresses his opinion, the review is still based on at least some musical arguments while your response is nothing but an attack on the person of the author himself. Therefore not a strong “defense”, indeed not a defense of Mr Lang at all.

          You should criticize his views, not the fact that he may have once been a drug addict. That makes you look rather sanctimonious.

        • Josh R says:

          I just picked myself up off of the floor after laughing myself stupid over your comment concerning Mr Lang’s ‘music-making’. He does not create music, he generates publicity from his wild gesticulating and flamboyant appearances with Metallica and other musical luminaries. So I suppose CD sales are the new standard for artistic integrity? I suppose Canbridge also thinks that Tyler Perry is greater than Werner Herzog, John Grisham is a far superior writer than Thomas Pynchon? McDonalds is the height of fine dining?

          Canbridge, please reevaluate your life. After Duck Dynasty finishes, chug your Budweiser and see if you can figure out the gaping hole in your logic.

        • Dear Canbridge,

          That you choose not to defend the reputation of a pianist you esteem, is it because you find it unworthy of your time? Best Wishes, Eduard Laurel

    • Martin says:

      Why? This chap shares my opinion of pretty much any concerto I heard Lang Lang play. Utter rubbish, not worth a penny. With he exception of a Chopin recital I have so far not heard anything from Lang Lang which would get me to a concert hall.

      And I can can give you an example for this: About a decade ago, I attended an RSNO concert featuring Lang Lang as pianist. I didn’t go back to a classical music concert for years. Until I discovered that real music performance actually is worth the world at free season opener of a St. Gallen Symphony Orchestra which I only attended cause I had nothing else to do. Since then I spent thousands of had earned pounds on classical music. Lang Lang doesn’t do this,

      it’s real musicians like the mentioned orchestras or pianists like Sokolov or Pires, violinists like Kavakos or Frang and so one who get people into concert halls on a regular basis – regardless of which solist or conductor is in fashion,

  • kindadukish says:

    Those who can do, those who can’t criticise……………….

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I believe that should be

      Those who can, do, those who can’t, criticize…


      Those who can – do, those who can’t – criticize…

      At least Mr CrackCritic knows how to use punctuation!

      • ALBERT LANDA says:

        I have always believed that the “saying” went.. “Those that can, do. Those that can’t , teach.” No÷

    • Dear kindadukish,

      It it is not clear from your post if you are a musician. Would it be to much to ask you to buy and or hear this CD in question? What do YOU think??

      All Best, Eduard Laurel

  • Jim Brinton says:

    Lang Lang is a triumph of marketing over aesthetics. There are many far-better pianists who get nothing like the (undeserved) publicity LL gets. I just hope he doesn’t do permanent damage to the art before he leaves the stage.

  • Truth Detector says:

    Preach! Bang Bang will be Bang Bang…..

  • anon says:

    Those who can suffer in silent obscurity; those who can’t get record deals because they look nice; those with aesthetic understanding criticize this situation; and those who feel intimidated by such judgments attack the critics. Same old story.

  • Hank Drake says:

    I’m far from a Lang Lang fan, but I found the racial undertones to Mr. Laurel’s review to be quite offensive.

    • M.A. Steinberger says:

      Pardon my obtuseness, but what “racial undertones”?

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I wasn’t impressed by the review either; but what are the “racial undertones” that you detected?

    • Dear Mr. Drake,

      I am horrified, mortified, by your implication that my observation of Lang Lang is racist. Would you care to be more specific? If there is truth in your accusation, I will reevaluate the person I am. The majority of the people I work with are Asian.

      The more I dwell on your irresponsiblities, sorry, the angrier I become. What, Sir, Do you have to say?


      Eduard Laurel

  • James Ryan says:

    Well, as someone who did the same thing for 10 years well into my 40’s and as a professional opera singer the entire time (clean for the last 14 years) this rang true to me. I respectfully suggest that you don’t know what you are talking about.

    • Dear Mr. Ryan,

      Thank you for your response! Excuse me, I don’t understand what you wrote. It is an embarrassment to ask you for clarification!!

      All Best, Eduard Laurel

  • Irene says:

    I have to agree with Edward Laurel. He is entitled to his opinions and his past history should not come into play when he is writing and only voicing his own opinion. FYI– many orchestra musicians who have worked with Lana Lang refer to him as “Bang Bang” He has terrific fingers but his interpretations are often tasteless and many times he plays as if “loud and fast” is his only goal.

  • Jeannette Kados says:

    Eduard Laurel says himself that he is beholden to no one. This is a very thoughtful review by someone who obviously knows these works inside out and is disappointed and distressed to hear them played in this manner. Those commenters who feel the need to attack him (am I the only one who can find zero offensive racial undertones in the article?) for his honesty about his opinion, not to mention his difficult past, are the true pathetic people here.

  • Doug says:

    Totally agree. Lang Lang is what happens when you toss, no, violently throw artistry aside over the lure of fame, marketing and money. Ashame that Rattle willingly falls into that trap over and over, this being another example.

  • Thomas Piercy says:

    It was not published in a “serious newspaper. It is published on his blog:

  • Canbridge says:

    Lang Lang has received horrible reviews, and in many different cities. I think part of it comes from a bit of jealousy. When people see that he has 150 concerts every year, at a fee that only some opera divas used to get (or now get), they begin to ask questions, ‘why does he deserve it and not others ?’, ‘why is life so unfair ?’. As far as critics are concerned, when I was growing up, there were many newspapers – New York had five or six – and reviews could be read the very next morning. There’d be a fantastic review in one, a terrible one in another, and the rest would voice an opinion somewhere in the middle. It’s worth mentioning that Leonard Bernstein almost never got a good review in New York! (Gary Graffman)

  • Andrew R. Barnard says:

    I read the review and it is indeed ridiculous. The move to punish popular Classical stars for their stardom is getting ridiculous, and people usually concerned about equality suddenly get a kick out of comments with racist overtones.

    Isn’t it a bit hypocritical that the same blogger who claims that the Vienna Phil is discriminating against women every time they hire a new male now gleefully gives a link to a review entitled “Whang Bang No Thank You Lang”?

  • harold braun says:

    Should have given up crack earlier and practised more!Maybe with more discipline Mr.Laurel could have played on Mr.Lang’s level,instead of merely chastising him!

    • Dear Mr. Braun,

      Strange it is that it was the Prestissimo of the 2nd movement of the Bartok Concerto that made me realize I would never have the technique to play it at the composer’s indicted tempo, and give up any vague wish towards a solo career. There was never a need for me to practice; there was a quarter century when, as a backbone to the conservatories I have been associated with, I would have stretches of 14 hour work days in front of the piano. In fact it took immense discipline to play with the inexpressible exhaustion and paranoia addicts of crack suffer from. My favorite compliments come from former students from that dark time who run into me around town with, “Yes, we all knew about your problem, but what impressed us was not that you could play at all, but that you could play so well.” I wonder why this dialogue has careened from the subject at hand, from Lang Lang?

      Respectfully, Eduard Laurel

  • ALBERT LANDA says:

    I found the writing of this “review” quite beautiful if a little self-indulgent. But there was also an element of fun in the sometimes over-the top metaphors.On the whole I loved it. Why is it that when a relatively low-profile, but otherwise worthy musician makes a strongly negative criticism of a more publicly “successful” artist it has to be ascribed to “jealousy”. I reject this completely.I think that Lang Lang receives enough sycophancy from commentators to toughen him sufficiently for the occasional against-the -tide,

    more witheringly negative comment. I like to think that he had a good laugh upon reading this “review” Probably on his way to the bank?

    • Dear Mr Landa,

      Thank you for your appreciation of my efforts towards humor. This project has its roots to commemorate concerts, then supper and drinks friends have taken me to after, as a diversion, to celebrate good times. About good laughs, I wonder If Colin Carr’s ear to ear grin when I saw him last on the panel of a competition (I played for a cellist) was because of an admittedly merciless notice on his Bach recording from Wigmore Hall.

      All Best Wishes, Eduard Laurel

      • ALBERT LANDA says:

        Dear Mr. Laurel,

        Thank you for your reply to my reply. may I presume to stretch our brief cyber-contact a little more by relating a rather amusing personal contact I had with the apparently, for some, bothersome Lang Lang.

        I was in attendance at his performance of the Tchaikowsky Concerto in Bb Minor and was seated in the very second row, immediately under the tail of the Steinway Model D and was in full view of his person, from the shoulders up. This was at the Sydney Opera House. It was rather disconcerting because there were occasions when it seemed to me that we were making direct eye contact.(As you surely know , he has very mobile eyes.Sometimes in a heaven-wards direction, sometimes fixed on some distant imaginary object in front of him, sometimes briefly gazing directly into the audience.)

        Well, at a certain place in the first movement he unexpectedly played something in such a very vulgar manner that I spontaneously LAUGHED! Well, for the next complete minute (it seemed like an eternity) I was literally impaled in my seat by an incredibly black, frowning, directly targeted LOOK, which even caused the folks behind me to snigger.

        I can assure you that I was quite shaken by this experience and found it difficult later to manage to enjoy the dear old Tschaik. again, especially that particular spot, the approach of which seems to set off a sort of shadowy sense of dread.

        Let me just conclude by saying that the quality of LL that I do rather like is the sheer joy in music-making that he does manage to convey. Quite refreshing, I feel.

        with warm regards,

        albert landa

  • Nick says:

    There has long been a rumour in the music profession that Lang Lang ditched IMG Artists who had been responsible for launching his career very successfully and went to the rapidly downsizing CAMI agency because they promised to make him a star. “Star” in this sense meant a world star and not just a classical star. If that’s true, then CAMI has done its job. That said, though, in branching out from the confines of a traditional concert career, like him or not Lang Lang has done a great deal of good in promoting classical music. Sure, there are certainly better classical pianists available to recording companies and promoters, but how many are guaranteed to fill coffers like a Lang Lang concert, I wonder?

    • Derek Castle says:

      OMG, how often must we read on this blog that the likes of £ang £ang, JE, etc, etc, have done a lot ‘ to promote classical music’ ? They’ve done a lot to promote themselves in the world of showbiz. What has ‘filling coffers’ to do with the understanding of serious music?

      • Nick says:

        Why is it that many ‘commentators’ are so blinkered? Why do they fail to accept that whilst classical music audiences are declining – or at best standing still – in much of the west, they are growing exponentially in Asia. And it is precisely because pianists like Lang Lang are ‘stars’ in the west that they attract huge new audiences in Asia. Many in these audiences may not be as critically aware as Derek Castle, but let’s never forget that the vast majority have only relatively recently been exposed to classical music, they want to learn about concert-going and they are finding in droves that they enjoy the classical/serious music experience.

        Ever bothered to find out how many new concert venues have opened in China alone in the last 15 or so years? Ever wondered why Asia as a whole boasts some of the finest concert venues in the world, or why the major western orchestras and musicians are all keen to develop their own audiences and profiles in China?

        Classical music is not just confined to the west. It’s a big world out there!

  • Thomas Roth says:

    I reviewed this and the Blu-ray from the recording sessions and wrote some very negative words. Mr Laurel is right in everything he says about these performances and if you watch the recording sessions it becomes clear that the soloist and conductor have absolutey nothing interesting to say about the music. This is superficial music making from bar one.

  • Leah L. says:

    I am new to Mr. Laurel’s writing, but having found his blog through this ArtsJournal syndication, I have read back on his other reviews and find his writing refreshing, knowledgable, thoughtful and a rather unbiased voice in the music criticism world.

    A critical voice is not synonymous with a jealous, embittered voice. I challenge any commenter who has posted here before me to show me a music critic who is not qualified by his or her own direct experience with performing / studying music on some level.

    Mr. Laurel’s blog does not seem to be a forum for punishing classical music stars for their popularity, but rather creating a forum for critical, unbiased discourse. I look forward to reading more from this blogger. Bravo Mr. Laurel and to Norman for exposing me to his writing.

  • Rgiarola says:

    I’ve never heard of Eduard Laurel before. I’m not a pianist, but if I would be jealous, it would be about Gilels or Michelangeli. I work for a huge Asian company and many fellow are Asians. Finally, I’ve never use anything besides cigars and alcohol beverages on weekends. However I’ve got quite the same opinion about L2. If I wouldn’t, at least Mr. laurel is keeping focus on musical aspects of L2 interpretation. The only ones mixing things are some of the comments here, on a very lamentable way.

    We could do a list of slaved supporters, since always very specific artist cannot be badly reviewed that we will find people fighting as a bull in a “Corrida de toros”. This is the thing more common between L2 and Yundi, or even Dudamel just to name few ones. Please, I’m not saying these artists are guilty, as much as Millwall isn’t for their hooligans.

    Shame on you Hooligans of classical artists!

  • Antonio says:

    I have reluctantly obliged a few sponsors in the past to attend two of lang lang’s live concerts personally. As a concert pianist myself, I cringed so badly bordering on stomach cramps, as I was extremely disgusted by his pure lack of sound artistic sense and aesthetics; and not to mention his monumentally vulgar mannerisms of the highest order, perhaps exceeding the likeness of Franz Liszt based on the accounts of his performances – but even more extreme.

    Needless to say, he does great disservice to the classical musical arts and to our profession as concert pianists in general. Did we not have enough great pianists in the twentieth century for him to learn from their fine examples, or is does he have not-so-hidden agenda ? Perhaps fame and wealth as a crossed-over pop star such as the great Maksim and Richard Clayderman ? He’s certainly succeeded in the latter, resoundingly.

    As Josef Hofmann, who by the way for all the non-pianists and/or layman here, is considered one of the greatest pianists by his peers, including Sergei Rachmaninoff himself, shared the following wisdom which I highly advise all to study carefully:

    “All such [grotesque] actions as you describe reveal a lack of the player’s proper self-control when they are unconsciously indulged in. When they are consciously committed, which is not infrequently the case, they betray the pianist’s effort to deflect the auditors’ attention from the composition to himself, feeling probably unable to satisfy his auditors with the result of his playing and, therefore, resorting to illustration by more or less exaggerated gesture.”

    In fact, what Hofmann explained applies to many other professions as well, I leave that to you to wonder.

    Enough Said.

  • Joyce Pickleson says:

    One should very much enjoy to read more of Mr. Laurel’s critiques!