NEW YORK • Carnegie Hall had a problem. Lang Lang, one of the world's most popular pianists, was scheduled to headline its opening-night gala yesterday.
But he has been out of commission for several months with a classical musician's worst nightmare - an injury that has left him unable to use his left arm.
Last week, it was announced that his Nov 29 and 30 concerts at the Esplanade Concert Hall in Singapore had been cancelled.
But in New York, Lang and Carnegie came up with an unusual solution to make sure that the show would go on.
His 14-year-old protege, Maxim Lando, would sit beside him at the piano and serve as his left hand as they played a rare two-piano version of Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue with another star, jazz pianist Chick Corea.
It would be a first for Lang, who said in an interview that he had performed works for one hand, two hands, four hands and even six hands.
"But," he said, "never five hands."
At a rehearsal in Manhattan, his right hand flew dexterously up and down the keyboard.
His injured left hand sometimes conducted or turned pages of the score, occasionally beat time on his thigh and at times rested on Lando's shoulder.
Together, they traded syncopated riffs with Corea, who sat at his own piano facing them.
Corea gave Lang some suggestions on tempo ("It helps it swing a bit more"), while Lang taught Corea how to pronounce the name of conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who would be leading them and The Philadelphia Orchestra.
Lang, 35, one of the few classical artists to successfully break through to a broader audience, said in April that he would have to cancel performances because of inflammation in his left arm.
He said in an interview that he injured the arm this year during what he called "a stupid practice of Ravel's left-hand concerto" - referring to the concerto Maurice Ravel wrote in 1929 and 1930 for pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I.
"I was not paying so much attention, I was already tiring and I pushed to practise," he said.
He explained that several orchestras had invited him to play the piece. He was facing a deadline to decide, so he pressed himself to learn too quickly an unfamiliar work designed for only one arm.
But he added that he was healing well and had begun returning to his normal routine.
"I'm already starting to practise, every day, a very short time now - like 20 to 30 minutes a day," he said. "So gradually it's recovering, coming back. But I want to be back with a totally complete recovery - I don't want to play halfway and stop.
"So I'm taking it in a safe way."
Lang and Lando, an alumnus of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation's Young Scholars Program, which was founded in 2008, have played concerts together with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
When they finished, Corea invited Lang to hear him that night at the Blue Note, a jazz club in Greenwich Village.
"I would invite Maxim," he said, "but I don't know what your mother would think."
Lang had a question for Corea about the more improvisational world of jazz. "When you play something again," he said, "do you play it almost similar or completely different?"
Corea said: "Both."
Lang asked whether he always remembered what he played.
"Only the mistakes," Corea said.