The day Lang Lang turned into Liberace

The day Lang Lang turned into Liberace


norman lebrecht

June 17, 2019

He has cancelled most orchestral concerts, stopped expanding his repertoire, confined himself to five easy pieces on record.

Who does that call to mind?

Here are some more clues.

He has a piano named after him, as well as all kind of oligarch products.

He stages a wedding at Versailles, the Valhalla of excess.

He talks mostly about accessories.

It’s all going Liberace for the former wonder-pianist of emergent China.

What can he do to make a comeback?

Play something challenging – the Schoenberg concerto, Busoni, Birtwistle, Prokofiev.

Show us he’s still interested in music.


  • Ling Ling says:

    Why are you obsessed with Lang Lang, Norman? You seem to be the only one who realizes he’s not interested in making great music and is just in it for the money and fame.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I’m sorry to say it’s the Chinese influence. They don’t have a tradition of European art music and have adopted the west’s consumerist religion and its johnny-come-lately, classical music. Very disappointing.

    • Simon says:

      There’s some truth in this comment, though it’s a tad unfair too: I live in Hong Kong and many of my Chinese friends despise Bang Bang. Chinese society is catching up with Asian interest in music – we can’t expect it to be like Japan and Korea yet.

    • Amos says:

      Shocking, another racist comment from a reliable source. They? Over a billion people have the same mind-set about anything let alone classical music? The rest is right out of the propagandists playbook from the 30’s.

      • Tiredofitall says:

        Well put. We know what happens when we begin categorizing people.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Oh, so there’s no such thing anymore as a national chatacteristic? News to many of us. Your comments are right out of The Guardian songsheet of politnuro propaganda. Wider reading required. And getting out more. Clue: read with less hysteria.

        • Paul Brownsey says:

          “so there’s no such thing anymore as a national chatacteristic? ”

          Even if there are national characteristics, they’re not worth attaching importance to.

        • Amos says:

          It is more than ironic that someone who espouses eugenics-inspired views of racial and cultural homogeneity tells anyone to “get out more”. Your earlier assertion that the Chinese lack a cultured approach to music due to a lack of familiarity with European art music both diminishes centuries of music appreciation within China, the quality of Chinese-composed music and the fact that “European art music” was well known. Maoist interference notwithstanding when Ormandy and the PO traveled to China in 1973 they were greeted by a population which wanted to listen to Beethoven again and wasn’t permitted to hear Strauss or Debussy. Do you really live in a mindset that still believes that Italian conductors can’t do justice to German/Austrian composers, English conductors are limited to Mozart, Haydn and Elgar and Americans hopelessly out of their depth save for Copeland and jazzy tunes? Take a deep breath, come to grips with the fact that you live in 2019, not 1919 and stop trying to pigeonhole people into meaningless categories.

  • V. Lind says:

    Take a look at his website under the Tour section There is a long series of concerts with orchestras around the world in the next six months. In no respect have they seemingly been cancelled.

    What is an “oligarch product”?

    I am not sure in which way the Palace of Versailles is fairly called “the Valhalla of excess.” It’s an expensive venue available to rent for weddings, by people well-known and not. It is a place full of history and is available to anyone who can pay the fee.

    I gather the blog owner does not care for the pianism of Lang Lang. He is not alone, though the artist has as many supporters as detractors on this site, and, more importantly, good orchestras and conductors continue to invite him to perform with them. Who knows their motives — perhaps in some cases to use his celebrity to attract people into their halls. But that celebrity can work well for classical music — it is a pity there are not a few more Lang Langs whose name can fill a hall. It is not as if he is abusing the music, even if he is not the greatest pianist who ever lived, or even lives.

    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion of the artistry of this player. But this site is taking continuing and, seemingly, growing, space and time to pick apart every aspect of Lang Lang’s life, from his wedding to his business activities. It has wandered from critique dangerously close to abuse and vindictiveness. In a profession beset by huge problems in the area of sexual misconduct, by mismanaged orchestras where strikes, lockouts and conflicts exist between managements and artists over priorities, by corruption in competitions, this young man seems to have committed the ultimate offences: he has become popular, and filled classical halls, and become a household name, and made some money through commercial endorsements. There seem to me to be worse sins in the music world.

    Maybe a little more attention to some of the programmes he has supported for young people, the fact that he can run a good Master Class, the work of his Foundation, might be offered occasionally to counter the impression that he is a useless layabout. It may just be that he cultivates the persona of a Hello magazine star and celebrity endorser in order to keep his name front and centre and exploit it himself in the furtherance of his stated aims of making music education available to as many young people as possible. If the cost of that is a Schoenberg recording, I for one am prepared to pay it.

  • Lang Bang Bang says:

    Lang Lang can’t match Liberace’s musicality. Liberace was also a better pianist. Liberace’s sham marriage is similar to Lang Lang’s; this is the only similarity.

  • Jake says:

    I’ve heard from people in the know, he still has shoulder problems and simply can’t play demanding works anymore. Here’s something interesting, mention anything about this health issue on his social media accounts, even saying kind words such as “maestro, I hope your arm recovers” and his social media team will delete it.

  • Pizza says:

    I know this from a senior faculty from the school. Guess how much of money to date, Lang Lang has donated to his alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music? $0.

    • The View from America says:

      Perhaps he doesn’t think Curtis deserves it … that wouldn’t be the first time something like that’s happened with an alum.

      I haven’t given money to my college in decades.

    • Me! says:

      He donates to needier causes than those already at Curtis

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Why should he give anything to Curtis? Where does this sense of entitlement from Curtis come from. He paid the fee and got his education: the contract is over.

  • The View from America says:

    Van Cliburn and his “incredible shrinking repertoire” may also come to mind …

  • boringfileclerk says:

    Stopped expanding his repertoire? He’s releasing an album covering Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi songs this November! NEVER question the instincts of a great artist!

  • fflambeau says:

    More Lang Lang bashing. NL has a problem that transcends Lang Lang.

  • fflambeau says:

    “He has cancelled most orchestral concerts, stopped expanding his repertoire, confined himself to five easy pieces on record.”

    I hate to say this to the hater who wrote this but Lang Lang has recorded the music of Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Brahms, Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Bach, Debussy, Schubert, and many artists of his native China. It is not a limited or easy repertoire at all. He has worked with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, he Chicago Symphony Orchestra and other leading orchestras of the world. He has been nominated for best instrumentalist at the Grammy awards.

    Also wrong is the misinformation on his not touring. He is scheduled to perform in Sydney,Australia later this month and then in Salzburg, Liechtenstein, Pittsburgh, USA, New York City, Seattle and San Francisco, Hamburg, Amsterdam among other leading cities of the world. See

    Please stop the Trump-like attacks which are mostly untrue.

  • John Rook says:

    Alfredo Kraus limited himself to a handful of roles and was widely praised for doing so.

  • Me! says:

    I recall he was injured and so of course he needs to accommodate his health and healing, not idiotically reinjure himself with challenging new material and the practice time it would require. Congratulations to him on getting married and not being zealously private but keeping classical music and pianists in mainstream culture. NL’s hostility to prominent Asian performers and focus on non musical matters whilst insulting the evident skill of performers (Lang L, Yuja) is racist and sexist seeming and creates needless hostility in media

  • Robert Groen says:

    Norman, I don’t think Lang Lang is under any obligation to show you anything. The list of great pianist who never tackled Schoenberg, Busoni, or (ugh!) Birtwistle is as long as your arm. As for Prokofiev, I shouldn’t wonder if he’s already done me. 3 and the Seventh Sonata.

  • fflambeau says:

    Just as silly would be to say that the great pianist, Martha Argerich, performs mostly 19th and 20th century European music with a emphasis on the “easy to play” Chopin. She has, by the way, cancelled scheduled June, 2019 performances in Singapore.

    Or that Alfred Brendel focuses exclusively on the Germanic repertoire. He once cancelled a performance in Los Angeles too.

    This is all nonsense except the cancellations are correct.

  • M McAlpine says:

    There is nothing like success to arouse the wrath of the critics, most of whom are failed musicians and hate the thought of someone else succeeding.

  • Prix D'Excellence says:

    Like Liberace, Lang Lang is about showbiz. He’s not a serious musician, and his performances lack depth of both musicality and understanding. He’s the kind of guy who would read the Minute Waltz by Chopin as something to be played in 60 seconds, rather than as a small, elegant salon piece. That’s about the level of his musical understanding. Sadly there are many listeners and concert attenders who enjoy the “sugary fix” that Lang Lang delivers. Come the day they discover he’s a fraud, if they ever do, then like Liberace, he will be history. Of course his bank account will by then allow him Hollywood status, so does he care ? I guess not !!

    • Robert Groen says:

      I hate to have to say this to so obvious a great expert and impeccable arbiter of musical taste as yourself, but on his recent album Piano Magic (issued by Sony) Lang Lang plays Chopin’s Waltz Op. 64 in D-flat Major in 2 minutes and 16 seconds. Valentina Lisitsa, eight years ago, dispatched it in 1 minute and 49 seconds. The venerable old master Artur Rubinstein took a frisky 1 minute 54 seconds. The late lamented Zoltan Kocsis was even quicker, with 1 minute 36 seconds. Others include:
      M.-A. Hamelin, 2’29
      S.Rachmaninov 2’00”
      E. Kissin 1’59”
      Ignaz Friedman (long dead) 1’35”.
      And so on and so forth. Abject rubbish is still that, even from the pen of on One Who Knows…..

      • Prix D'Excellence says:

        I hate to have to say this Robert but you misread my post. My comment was on Lang Lang’s musical understanding, not how fast or slow he compares with other pianists in his delivery of the Minute Waltz. I was given a CD of Lang Lang many years ago, which I kindly donated to a charity shop. He is indeed a showman, no question about that. A well read musician who understands the context of the works he performs, alas not. There are scores of pianists as dexterous as he, who have not benefited from the media machine, commercial endorsements, and Hello Magazine. He and his team has indeed been “lucky”. Let’s see if he lasts the tale of time ?

    • Ludwig's Van says:

      Liberace wasn’t a fraud. He was actually a fine pianist and very fine musician. Certainly he wasn’t a great pianist, but a damn good one. And nobody can deny that Lang Lang is a formidable player – but yes, in the musicianship department he is lacking. He’s a Rolls Royce without a driver.

      • piano lover says:

        Liberace was a great pianist-he played Liszt PC n°2 in mid 40s(if I remember well) but switched to “easy music”.
        Easy music :he ruled out the “boring” parts of the pieces to keep the exciting ones.So he said in other terms.
        Watching him on YT clearly shows his technique if of high level.

  • Tesse says:

    Not a fan. But on the subject of repertoire he is scheduled for Goldberg Variations in North Carolina May 2020.

  • Bruno says:

    He has just recovered from the injury, he can’t play recitals until next year and very limited concertos, doctors orders. His recent review with the LA Times tells you that he’s still the best in the business. Of course, all you will do is keep writing your sad little posts.

  • Rob says:

    “He stages a wedding at Versailles, the Valhalla of excess.” NL

    A great quote, but…

    “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” – Mae West