Lang Lang and China Philharmonic Orchestra

On the first Saturday of 2005, we went to SF Symphony¡¯s box office to order tickets of Lang Lang with China Philharmonic Orchestra concert, which was scheduled for March 6th. ¡°Ah, Lang Lang! Everyone wants to see Lang Lang!¡± The high spirited gentleman working behind the box office window exclaimed. He checked on his computer and informed us that all tickets on the left side of the stage had been sold out. But he got us some good tickets on 1st Tier on the right side of the stage.

Lang Lang the piano Prodigy. Born and raised in northern China, Lang Lang started taking piano lesson when he was 2, went on stage and won his first award at the age of 5, moved to Beijing to study at the age of 8, moved further to the US at the age of 15. By chance, he was the replacement for Andre Watts in an international music festival held in Chicago. That performance of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto set his stardom in motion. The audience leaped to their feet at the end, Lang Lang, the star, started its joyful ascend. That year, he was 17.

Program of March 6th at SF Symphony:

-Rimsky-Korsakov Overture to The Tsar’s Bride
-Hua Yanjun/A’bing Moon Reflected on the Second Fountain
-Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

-Ye Xiaogang Das Lied von der Erde, soprano Luwa Ke
-Bart¨®k Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin

China Philharmonic Orchestra was a pleasant surprise. I was thoroughly impressed. Majority of the 120 musicians looked to be in their twenties. The sound they conjured up was beautiful, let it be the exciting sequence of The Tsar’s Bride or the moody sorrow from ¡°Moon Reflection¡±. The latter touched me deeply. Not sure whether it was due to the high contrast of such eastern sound inside such western settings, my tears were out of control throughout the entire piece.

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was the showpiece for Lang Lang. But often I found myself enjoying the orchestra just as much. At the very end, when the entire orchestra morphed into one entity of trembling sound, the slightly metal quality of the music transformed the orchestra into one giant leaf, trembled against the powerful rain storm of Lang Lang¡¯s piano. What joy that was! My heart leaped! I was beyond myself.

The second half of the concert was rather modern. I¡¯m in general remaining skeptical toward modern arts, modern classical music included. Too many of them sounded borderline noise to me. But the two pieces chosen by this orchestra turned out to be mildly enjoyable.

Ye Xiaogang¡¯s Das Lied von der Erde had the red-clad Luwa Ke sang ancient Chinese poems from Tang Dynasty, the orchestra contributed occasionally Peking Opera style drum and percussion sound. I was especially fond of the last two pieces. With its relatively quieter sound affect and the creative use of percussion instrument to simulate the bell and drum of a Chinese temple. I was captivated when the sound of a lone Luo slowly died down, and the light pattering of a large drum slowly fading away. That unique sound of solitude so typical of an Asian temple was perfectly recreated on stage. Fascinating.

Someone said on the Chinese BBS that the reason of choosing ¡°The Miraculous Mandarin¡± was to show off this young Orchestra¡¯s excellent techniques. Maybe she was right. But I truly enjoyed the piece. In Mi¡¯s words, it was very satisfying to watch everyone on stage working so hard throughout the entire piece. What more can an audience ask for?

Here are more photos from the night at symphony.

The Chronicle Review: China Philharmonic Orchestra makes S.F. debut with Lang Lang, by Allan Ulrich, March 8, 2005
Lang Lang’s Official website
CBS 60 minutes interviewing Lang Lang