Lang Lang the livewire

Chinese pianist Lang Lang cut short a holiday to prepare for the concerto he will be playing here.
Chinese pianist Lang Lang cut short a holiday to prepare for the concerto he will be playing here.PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Chinese pianist will lead 50 pianists and duet with Singapore singer JJ Lin

Fresh from a short vacation in Qingdao, China, pianist Lang Lang will head for the high seas after his performance here at the Sing50 concert on Friday.

But it is all work and no play for the 33-year-old Chinese virtuoso, who will be performing for the first time at a concert cruise departing from Shanghai and bound for islands near the Korean peninsula and Japan.

In fact, he cut short his Qingdao holiday to prepare for the Concerto In Three Movements that he will play at the concert here.

"It became a half-vacation for me and I don't get vacations much," he says with a laugh during an interview with Life at the Steinway Gallery in Orchard Road.

On Friday, he will lead a group of 50 pianists, aged seven to 52, in the three movements composed by Dr Kelly Tang that pay homage to Singapore's past, present and future. They will be accompanied by the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra.

Lang says: "The concerto is not that easy. It's got a lot of incredible harmonies. It's also a contemporary piece, which has a lot of mood changes. It will be harder than traditional classical music."

Referring to the huge number of pianists he will be leading at Sing50, he adds: "I am very excited, but also a little bit worried.

"I've kind of done something like this before for my 30th birthday, but it was with something easy. But even then, I had a real challenge making all the kids play together."

He will also duet with Singapore singer JJ Lin, whom he describes as his "good friend and buddy", in a reprise of their 2011 collaboration Clash Of The Souls, which merges Lin's Mandopop melodies with a composition by Russian pianist Sergei Rachmaninov.

Despite his whirlwind schedule, Lang does not appear tired in the least. He is a livewire during the interview, making quips ("No, I'm not married, not that I know of"), humming tunes and clapping his hands energetically and offering this reporter chocolate, which may well be the secret to his energy.

He says: "I take naps of about 20 minutes to one hour, it's enough to boost my energy. And I have some fresh fruit and chocolate, dark and truffle, to get me in the mood."

"I tell all my foundation kids to prepare this way. And now I get chocolate from my fans all the time, which is great," says Lang, referring to the foundation he founded in 2008 to focus on music education for the young.

He also obliges a request during this interview to play a piece by Rachmaninov with his trademark flamboyance.

Singapore's "speed, precision and quality" are hallmarks he admires and attributes to the work of the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. Part of the concerto will pay tribute to Mr Lee.

Lang says: "I watched this documentary about how he planned for Singapore and how difficult it was in the beginning. And now, Singapore is a miracle.

"The piece is beautiful and the hard work's worth it for Singapore's 50th anniversary."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2015, with the headline 'Lang Lang the livewire'. Print Edition | Subscribe