The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts April 7, 2006

Virtuoso Plays Benefit, Partners with UNICEF
Slick fingers: 23-year-old pianist Lang Lang gave a dynamic performance.

Performing three encores in response to a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd is not at all an unusual occurrence for Chinese pianist Lang Lang. Having already met with thunderous approval around the world, the 23-year-old virtuoso came to Cleveland’s Severance Hall last Monday evening for a benefit concert to raise money for the Cleveland Advertising Assoc-iation Scholarship Fund.

Lang Lang presented a hefty program of well-balanced repertoire from the Classical and Romantic periods. Opening the concert with the well-known Mozart Piano Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K. 330, he immediately demonstrated crafty artistry with a light and playful tone well-suited for the composer’s piece. Every turn and twist introduced a new color not previously included in the palette.

Exceptionally notable was his rendition of the second movement in Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58. Each note sparkled like pools of water beaded on a slick surface; however, a quick shift in style soon occurred and a more pensive, deep sound was produced.

Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (Scenes from Childhood) intertwined a tender nostalgia with the personality of a frolicsome six-year-old terror. The beautifully sweeping Sonnetto 104 del Petrarca by Liszt was an embraceable, somewhat tranquil interlude between two punchy Rachmaninoff Preludes (No. 2 and 5) and Liszt’s ever-popular rhythmic Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

Audience members chuckled with recognition; part of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 includes the oft-quoted background music frequently paired with physics-defying cartoon chases. The pianist commanded a strong presence, eliciting several laughs from the audience with his performance gestures. Already an amusing piece with several false endings and false alarms, the Hungarian Rhapsody was infused with both finger power and flippant jest by Lang Lang.

Although Lang Lang chose to program well-known works, a dangerous move many try to avoid, he was able to pull it off swiftly and cleanly.

His breakthrough came at the 1999 Ravinia Festival, performing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a substitute for an indisposed André Watts. Since that time, he has graced many of the globe’s most prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall in New York, Wigmore Hall in London and the Louvre in Paris.

Lang Lang has championed efforts to increase classical music education for young children. He often presents programs to schools across the country, breaking down the sometimes elitist view of classical music. Although he has been named a Steinway artist, pianos that have had poor upkeep do not keep him away.

In recognition for his progressive outreach, he was appointed in 2004 by the United Nations’ Children’s Fund as their youngest Goodwill Ambassador. Lang Lang recently began his duties with a visit to Tanzania where he championed efforts to raise awareness of malaria and other childhood illnesses. He participated in a village health day at Rundugai village in Hai District of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

“These communities fear malaria as the biggest killer of young children in Africa,” he said. “But they have proved that with innovative and community based interventions, deaths can be lowered significantly.” The pianist called to reduce malaria deaths by half by 2010.

Lang Lang’s work drew the CAA’s attention and they proudly selected him to aid their endeavors to raise funds for scholarship awards for college and high school students. Recent public debate has raised concerns about ensuring Cleveland’s economic and cultural success, spurring an extensive dialogue about how to nurture the creative class. The CAA aims to provide young talent with the monetary means to secure a stronghold in the prolific future of Cleveland.

With a roller coaster night of music and three encores that paid tribute to his Chinese heritage, Lang Lang finally exited the stage, leaving a packed Sev-erance Hall breathless.


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