Lang Lang if you don’t already know is one of the most exciting piano soloists to enter the piano music scene and has the potential to achieve a historical legendary status, as such I went with great excitement to watch him play which, despite him being a Hong Kong resident, is unfortunately very rare.
I went to the Panasonic Anniversary Concert which was a blend of what looked like an anniversary party and tickets for sale. This concert had tickets available for sale to the public so plebians like myself can witness the spectable too. The event was held in the Hong Kong Coliseum which is in Hung Hom, which meant that the performance was actually in a Stadium which also means loudspeakers and not the best of acoustics unfortunately. To my big surprise the entire Concert Hall was full which is exciting because I cannot remember when there was a classical musician in Hong Kong that could command such an audience of many thousands or whatever the capacity of the Coliseum is. There were huge TV screens which provided for live video performances of the performers and close-ups of mostly Lang Lang and him playing the Piano.
The show (and I literally mean show as there were flashy pink lightings and small firework effects) opened with a performance by a Chinese Conservatory who was also to accompany Lang Lang in the Piano Concertos to follow, which unfortunately was a borderline disaster which is a shame because Chinese musical students are extremely talented, disciplined and capable but their performance was uncoordinated and the Violins slurred lacking precision and the pizzicato was out of sync. It really looked like they either didn’t rehearse enough together or the conductor didn’t do his job well. The wind instruments generally were either too loud or too quiet but I figured that this should just be a warm up performance and afterall, they were students, perhaps this was their first major performance? The drums were the higlight of that Orchestra. The Asian Youth Orchestra in contrast, with students from all over asia who don’t even speak the same language and only have a few weeks together rehearsing was exceptional in comparison (and 2007 class was particularly excellent).
Then Lang Lang came on stage in a loud golden outfit and performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Lang Lang himself performed with his usual bravado providing a stellar performance but the accompanying Orchestra made several serious performance blunders, sometimes not even matching the timing, in other cases playing very meekly, the Clarinet almost choking at some points. It almost sounded like they were intimidated by Lang Lang.
There was a 20 intermission and then it restarted with an Oboe Concerto, except that the Oboist was performing solo. It was not really very good and playing Oboe solo is already challenging enough because of its sound and slightly awkward presentation.
The highlight of the evening was Lang Lang’s final official performance wearing a black modern suit where he played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2, Op. 18 which opened with the right mood and power, unfortunately the Speakers could not handle the Piano which Lang Lang was hard hitting in his typical bravado-style so the sound screeched at times, I wonder if there were are better high-fidelity speakers available who can handle this for a Coliseum/Stadium setting? Performing like this will always be a challenge, but nevertheless it was very enjoyable to watch/see him play this piece.
Unfortunately, once again, the Orchestra dissapointed by trying to almost overpower Lang Lang. The piece provides for a playful and powerful banter between the pianist and the Orchestra and you could tell that Lang Lang was paying attention to the Orchestra but the Conductor was not playing with Lang Lang, he was playing against him, as if in competition! Nevertheless Lang Lang’s final performance was really quite awesome and the audience applauded and cheered for an encore.
Then there was a rather bizarre turn of events as the sponsors daughter (Shun Hing, the distributor of Panasonic in Hong Kong) who was 14 or so performed one piece with Lang Lang and another solo piece and Lang Lang said he tutored her "part-time".
It was a disaster.
The solo was Shubert’s march militaire which she played with Lang Lang with one hand only (the right hand), and she was off many times, making very critical mistakes (like pounding the wrong chord several times over) and obviously had not even practiced the piece to at least perform it without awful mistakes, with one hand no less! At 14 she should be able to perform this piece, both hands, not with bravado, but at least perfectly, otherwise please pick a different piece, from the handbook of Anna Magdalena Bach or Sonatinos from Debussy or something else. The errors are accentuated because of the microphone.
The second part was a solo performance by her, to at this point the perplexed and dissapointed audience (which was apparent with the murmurs and the large streams of people starting to leave), which made matters only worse because she performed the Phanttom of the Opera piece horrificly with mistakes, and this time without Lang Lang to help. It was full of mistakes, very agonizing. Some of us paid good money but not to see this! I don’t know who I felt more sorry for, the girl performing terribly infront of thousands or Lang Lang having to endure this, both looked bad and the impression left was one of poor taste.
By this point the audience clapped in a timid way, as if to respect an embarrasing performance but there were already streams of people leaving and Lang Lang did not wait for a big scream of "encore", for there was none, and quickly went to the Piano and performed his trademark Chopin’s in his trademark, over-the-top action which helped to partially recover the previous fiasco but it was too short and at stage the wind was already out of the sails and people walked away talking about the embarrasment more than the great performance of Lang Lang. If this happened in the US or Europe there would have been loud boo’s and harsh critics, but this is Hong Kong and as a practice of "giving face" in a very chinese way I suppose is acceptable.
Hopefully Lang Lang will be performing more for audiences in Hong Kong as he can truy popularize classical music in ways nobody else is able to, at least in Hong Kong and perhaps, in time, big corporate sponsors in Hong Kong will be able to also be fine patron of the arts without embarrasing themselves or the artist in question.
Lang Lang’s performance in itself was 5 stars out of 5, but because of everything else the overall concert was more a 3 out of 5.