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[Herald Interview] Lang Lang hopes to ‘reach people’s heart and soul’

Star Chinese pianist says Bach’s Goldberg Variations is like ‘playing with Lego’

Pianist Lang Lang (Universal Music)
Pianist Lang Lang (Universal Music)
Pianist Lang Lang, known for his power-charged, knuckle-busting performances, is to share another side of his music with the world through Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

The celebrated Chinese pianist has released a recording of the monumental 1741 keyboard work from earlier this month under the Deutsche Grammophon label. The album features two performances -- one recorded in a studio and the other recorded live at the St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, Germany, where Bach resided at for a while.

It took Lang Lang more than 20 years to confidently share his interpretation of the variations with the world.

“I actually started listening and watching Glenn Gould play this piece when I was 10 years old and I always thought this piece is a very multidimensional Bach piece, a standard Bach piece,” Lang Lang said in an online interview recently.

Gould is a legendary Canadian classical pianist who debuted with an album of the Goldberg Variations in 1955. The recording made history as one of the most recognized piano recordings.

“I always felt maybe I am ready, but maybe I am not. I was going back and forth like this until three years ago, when I could concentrate more on learning this piece with the Baroque artist Andreas Staier,” the 38-year-old pianist said.

Cover image for Lang Lang’s new album (Universal Music)
Cover image for Lang Lang’s new album (Universal Music)

Though recognized more for his virtuosity and exceptional technique on the keyboard, the star pianist stressed the expressive side to the composition.

“Most important is the emotional aspect. Often people think about Bach and Baroque music, they intend to play less emotion there. They feel that all those extra emotions should be in Chopin and in Liszt or Schumann,” he said.

“Partially, it is correct in certain styling ways. But as (for) human emotions, that is totally wrong. You cannot lack yourself, not give the emotions to those beautiful moments,” Lang Lang said.

“It was almost like playing with Lego. It’s very different from playing Romantic music which is like emotional, like describing a movie or colors, whereas this is more mathematical but with emotions obviously.”

Like most other pianists, the Chinese pianist has been going through a rough time in recent months. Around 70 of his concerts have been postponed.

“We need to do a lot of things online, and do live streaming concerts. It is particularly difficult for performing arts because we cannot perform physically in concert halls with people,” the pianist said.

“I think (COVID-19) has totally changed the year 2020. I would say it is a nightmare for performing pianists or any musicians.”

The artist, however, is not despairing. At times like this, he thinks it is important to pursue music and offer alternated forms of musical experiences to people.

“As artists, we should console people’s hearts, like releasing new albums, or send short pieces on the internet to unite people’s hearts around the world,” he said.

“I would say in in this time we should work even closer with people sharing classical music because I think this type of music particularly reaches people’s heart and soul. It is quite an emotional art form.”

By Im Eun-byel (