The world's best-selling pianist, Lang Lang, teams up with the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Simon Rattle for his upcoming album on Sony Classical. Stream it in full below in advance of its Oct. 22 release. Open the gallery above for a glimpse into Lang Lang's celebrity lifestyle, and read on for our interview with the piano superstar, who talks about the challenges of Bartók and Prokofiev and his extra pianistic passions.
Bartók's Concerto No. 2 is often described as one of the most difficult concertos in the repertoire. For super virtuoso Lang Lang, the challenge is control.
"It's the sound, the colours, the tones — to have absolute control over them," he says. "Everything is so delicate in a very fast speed so it's almost like watching a film in fast forward. You need to make it sound less busy."
Lang Lang offered some insights into the three movements.
"Bartók's music is like a folk dance. We play it very light and very dance-like, particularly in the first movement and try for very clear phrasing rather than only percussive."
"The second movement is a kind of internal communication between yourself and your god," he continued. "It's quite religious and mysterious. The last movement is almost like early rock and roll music, lots of incredible heavy metal rhythm. You hear it and say, 'Oh wow, are we still in the classical music world?'"
The album pairs Bartók's Concerto No. 2 and Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3. Both works are from the early 20th century, composed 10 years apart. Lang Lang feels the concertos belong together because the two composers were trying to break barriers with different traditional roots — Prokofiev from the Russian tradition and Bartók from Hungarian roots. Lang Lang also said that both composers challenged the technique of the piano.
"You never saw the piano played that way after Franz Liszt."
Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3 is also a very flashy piece, but Lang Lang feels it's an easier listen.
"It has super broad melodic lines like Russian music often does. It's very emotional with rich tones. It's a kind of revolutionary piece with lots of dark humour." He describes the music as "a struggle against the darkness of the war that ends in a big victory."
Even for superstar Lang Lang, playing with the Berlin Philharmonic is a thrill.
"The orchestra is just incredible," he says. "It's one of the very few orchestras that does everything at the highest level whether it's Russian music, German repertoire or contemporary music. They're a great orchestra but also great individual soloists making it very unique in the world."
Lang Lang is the closest thing we have to a rock star in the classical music world, doing everything from performing for royalty to collaborating with John Legend and David Foster to having his own model of Adidas shoes.
"But," he told CBC Music, "90 per cent of the time I'm actually doing what you call traditional stuff. I try to have a variety but for me the most important thing is to do classical music concerts at the highest level and also to run my organizations, the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and my school the Lang Lang Music World. My biggest passion in life is to be a good educator."
Lang Lang says he's already looking forward to his next recording project.
"It's very cool, it's going to be a 4K DVD. Everybody's talking about 4K television so we're going to do the first classical music product on 4K. It means four times clearer than HD TV. It's pretty cool. Seriously, if you don't have good makeup you look weird."