NEW YORK (NYTimes) - Carnegie Hall had a problem.
Lang Lang, one of the world's most popular pianists, was scheduled to headline its opening-night gala Wednesday. 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.
Lang and Carnegie have come up with an unusual solution to make sure the show goes on: Lang's 14-year-old protege, Maxim Lando, will sit beside him at the piano and serve as his left hand as they play a rare two-piano version of Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue with another star, jazz pianist Chick Corea.
It will 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 Friday afternoon in Manhattan, Lang's right hand flew dexterously up and down the keyboard, while his injured left sometimes conducted; sometimes turned pages of the score; sometimes beat time on his thigh; and sometimes 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. ("It's ya-NEEK.")
Lang, 35, one of the few classical artists to successfully break through to a broader audience, first announced in April that he would have to cancel performances because of inflammation in his left arm. He said in an interview that he had 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 during World War I.
"I was not paying so much attention, I was already tiring, and I pushed to practice," Lang said. He explained that several orchestras had invited him to play the piece, and he was facing a deadline to decide, so he pressed himself to learn too quickly an unfamiliar work designed for only one arm.
But Lang said that he was healing well and had begun returning to his normal routine.
"I'm already starting to practice, 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 already played concerts together with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. When they finished, Corea invited Lang to hear him that night at the Blue Note, the jazz club in Greenwich Village.
"I would invite Maxim," he said, "but I don't know what your mother would think."
Then 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?" "Both," Corea said.
Lang asked whether he always remembered what he played.
"Only the mistakes," Corea said.