Lang Lang heads to Auckland for his New Zealand recital debut

It's been 12 years since Lang Lang first visited this country, playing Chopin with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in a concert that also marked the local debut of the orchestra's current Music Director, Edo de Waart.

Next Sunday, the Chinese pianist has scheduled an Auckland recital at the end of a whirlwind tour from Beijing through Macau to Sydney. After some days trying to catch the elusive superstar, he's suddenly at the end of a crackly mobile in Macau.

"What's up?" are his first words, followed immediately by "So lovely to hear you again." I can't believe our fleeting 2004 telephone chat was that memorable, but perhaps the man is toured out.

Lang Lang may call China his first home but "it's not like I'm living here at the moment," he explains. "I'm just touring all the time. In fact, I'm not living anywhere."


He enjoys Chinese audiences and says although there's not a huge difference between them and American or European audiences, he sees more of the younger generation in the concert halls - teenagers and younger children who study piano.

I tell him that Arts Channel viewers in this country are familiar with concerts featuring him as soloist alongside Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.

He registers astonishment and remembers his first audition, as a teenager, for the English conductor.

"He heard me play Haydn and immediately said I should play more for him," Lang Lang laughs, proud of their more recent collaborations including Prokofiev's Third Concerto and Bartok's Second.

"We're together again next year on Sir Simon's last Asian tour with the Berlin Philharmonic," he adds. "But I hope it's not my last time with the orchestra."

Lang Lang almost effervesces with excitement at the thought of his upcoming recital debut in New Zealand as "it's a more intense experience than a concerto and an audience has the chance to go deeper into the various musical styles".

One of the two works offered is Tchaikovsky's suite The Seasons and he finds it amazing that "one of Tchaikovsky's most poetic works" is so rarely played.

"People underestimate it because they think it's for children," he muses. "It is very much for adults, even though I played it as a kid when I was 6 or 7."

Chopin's four Scherzos, which he describes as virtuoso writing on the same level as the composer's Etudes, is also on the programme.

"There are lots of brilliant scales and such," he explains, going on to say that "inside the pieces there are also unexpected lullabies and folk music from Poland".

Lang Lang does not have the stage totally to himself next week; there will also be short performances by the winners of the New Zealand Youth Piano Competition.

This pleases him and not surprisingly as he's very proud of the work done by his Lang Lang International Music Foundation, which assists young musicians in what he describes as disadvantaged neighbourhoods such as Harlem and East Brooklyn.

"We'd like to bring music back into regular public schools," Lang Lang tells me with a real fervour. "Music education is crucial. If you don't have it, then people will never understand what music is all about. Some people feel distant from music written 200 or 300 years ago," he adds. "Yet if they can read Shakespeare, Tolstoy or Hugo then Bach, Mozart and Brahms should be no different."

In the final count, he tells me, it is all about "human creation".

"We need to help these young people to understand our music and unlock the meaning behind the notes. It's not that difficult," he adds. "It just needs extra work."

What: Lang Lang in concert
Where and when: Civic Theatre, Sunday June 12 at 8.30pm.