How to make peace between Lang Lang and Yundi

How to make peace between Lang Lang and Yundi


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2017

In a programme-length interview on Shanghai’s main television channel, I was asked about the acrid rivalry that persists between China’s two best-known classical musicians.

I offered a remedy which (I hope) you can watch below.

You may also find the programme’s production values interesting and encouraging.

And the adverts are culturally illuminating.

If the embed below doesn’t work click here to see the programme.


  • Been Here Before says:

    Another non-story manufactured by the PR machine. NL comes across as a surprisingly nice person, though.

  • Marc-Antoine Hamet says:

    Lang Lang and Li Lundi could indeed have lunch regularly, and… debate whether Yuja Wang is not a better pianist than both of them!

  • Marc-Antoine Hamet says:

    Li Yundi

  • Cyril Blair says:

    That was the least interesting part of the interview. Far more interesting, the overratedness of Mozart, the superiority of Haydn, Karajan’s ego.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      The overratedness of Mozart and superiority of Haydn can be respectable personal opinions but not historical arguments.

  • CK Lau says:

    Herbert von Karajan made 3 different versions of complete Beethoven Symphonies partly because the venue is different, the technology developed to another stage, and some members of the BPO were also changed etc etc. von Karajan was after perfection! It’s more than ego, control, hoarding etc etc. I don’t agree your comments on von Karajan, Dear NL, but I have to obey the basic democratic rule in that I don’t agree what you say but I have to defend your rights in expressing your views. I just expressed my view!

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Karajan recorded four Beethoven symphony cycles with the BPO: three sound recordings and one audio-visual. Many critics and music lovers, myself included, think of the first cycle as the best.

      • CK Lau says:

        Dear Petros Linardos,
        U r right! A total of 4 Beethoven Symphony cycles. I also like the first version recorded at Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin.

        Dear NL,
        What’s wrong for von Karajan (1908-1989) in making 900 recordings! Yes, Toscanini (1867-1957) made 150, but the circumstances were different! The technology was different, the classical music market was different!

        Commercialized, yes, but please understand that von Karajan was not just doing these for himself, he has a whole team of BPO and other orchestras members to feed, he has to make recording companies thriving, he has to popularize the CD format. I don’t see nothing wrong in commercializing classical music in the righteous way! Maestro Karajan is one of the most important musicians, a talented one, who popularized classical music!

        • Marc-Antoine Hamet says:

          Nicely put, CK!
          Don’t forget HvK’s first complete Beethoven cycles, made with the Philharmonia Orchestra between 1953 and 1956 and produced by Walter Legge.
          All were made in the Kingsway Hall except the Ninth: as there was no Philharmonia Chorus then, Karajan took the orchestra to the Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, and used the Vienna Singverein.

          • CK Lau says:

            Thank you, Dear Marc-Antoine!
            I was ignorant that there’s one Beethoven cycle made by von Karajan with Philharmonia Orchestra back in 1953-6 produced by Walter Legge.
            “All were made in the Kingsway Hall except the Ninth: as there was no Philharmonia Chorus then, Karajan took the orchestra to the Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, and used the Vienna Singverein”. WOW! Didn’t this show von Karajan an open minded musicians/person in making perfection! Salute!

  • Jack Wheat says:

    What the hell does that mean? Far more interesting pianists? Maybe, although interesting is one of the most subjective, least descriptive words in English. Far better? Some criteria and description please. Personally, I might agree in the case of one and disagree in the case of the other. But no one can honestly do so without disclosure of your standards.

    Superior musical culture? Whoa, hell, you’ve done it now. No elucidation is required on this count. There is no escaping the racism in it. Music is one of the most marvelously transferable components of culture. If you have not noticed, interest in classical and academic music is plummeting among white Europeans and their globally distributed descendants. Just look at the age of the audiences at symphony orchestra concerts.

    Or the jobs in classical performance for trained musicians. Or the disappearance of music education in American schools. And the massive demographic transformation of Europe, which started later in America but is now occurring at full clip.

    The future of this musical culture we love may well reside in Asia, where interest is soaring and there are huge populations and rapidly developing economies. Li Yundi’s first album sold 100,000 copies in China immediately upon release. That is astonishing for a classical recording. His and Lang Lang’s recordings continue to do similarly, and as they do they stimulate interest in the forms, composers, and other performers.

    Asia is just getting into the swing of its great industrial revolution, while the West is on the downhill grade of the post-industrial age that is hollowing out middle-class incomes, the tax bases for government support of arts. The
    genesis of the environment for classical music’s great growth in significance in Western Culture was the Industrial Revolution. Yes, we had great composers before that. But their music was largely confined to the courts of kings, princes, and archbishops and the upper class that had the money, exposure, social standing for opera and orchestra performances. And money for instruments and music lessons so that people could make music in their own homes. The 19th Century and its industrial riches brought us the great public enterprises or symphony orchestras, concert halls, music schools, and later recording and broadcasting developments amplified them.

    We need Li Yundi. We need Lang Lang. We need Seong-Jen Cho. We need excellent pianists and other musicians and interested audiences all over the world to globalize classical music. Else it will shrink and sink to cult status.

  • da96103 says:

    The lady was asking questions so earnestly in Mandarin that for a moment I thought Norman was gonna answer in Mandarin as well.