Pianist Lang Lang Looking Nowhere but Up

Article excerpt

Rockets aspire to pianist Lang Lang's rate of ascent. In just seven years, he has attained the popularity it took legendary pianists of the past -- such as Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein -- many decades to achieve.

Although Lang's picture adorns the covers of the season brochures of top American orchestras alongside music directors and cellist Yo- Yo Ma, the 23-year-old Chinese pianist speaks with humility about his good fortune and desire for continued growth.

He's back at Heinz Hall this week for his third set of concerts with the Pittsburgh Symphony, playing Frederic Chopin's Piano Concerto in E minor, which he'll also perform on the symphony's European tour in August.

"To be discovered is very nice, but I don't want to think about that," he says. "I need to be focused to keep improving. At this stage of my life, I don't want to waste time."

Lang began playing piano when he was 3 years old. His parents were musicians who played Chinese music, not Western classical music. "We had a Chinese-made upright that sounds pretty awful," he says.

He played his first concert when he was 5. When he was 9, he was accepted at the Beijing Conservatory, but had a difficult time. "I had a not very pleasant teacher, who didn't like me or my playing," he says. "She kicked me out of her class and said, 'You will never be a pianist.'"

He had the last laugh, however, when he went back to the Beijing Conservatory earlier this year as its youngest professor. When he gave a recital, his old nemesis was there, proudly sitting in the first row.

Lang won Japan's Tchaikovsky Competition when he was 13, and began an active concert career in China, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries.

Winning the Tchaikovsky Competition also brought Lang invitations from many of the world's top music conservatories.

"I think the U.S.A. has the best schools, with so many wonderful teachers," he says. "Europe is still good, but sometimes what I find is a bit limited. …