By Chris Devonshire-Ellis
Lang Lang, the Shenyang born Chinese pianist many consider the best of his generation, (“Stunning” – New York Times) has released a new joint CD and DVD, “Dragon Songs” on the Deutsche Grammophon label, the most prestigious for international classical artists. Comprising many of China’s most loved classics, the pianist also made a documentary of the recording, included in the package.
Featuring the pianist, both solo and accompanied by the China Philharmonic Orchestra, and with a variety of traditional Chinese instruments, Lang Lang’s recordings revisit “The Yellow River Piano Concerto”, based on the “Great Song of The Yellow River” written by Xian Xinghai in 1939, and subsequently scored for orchestra by Yin Chengzang during the early seventies. “The Buffalo Boys Flute” is also included, a tune with a particularly interesting history in the development of Western classical music in China.
In 1934, the Russian composer and pianist Alexander Tcherepnin organized a competition in Shanghai designed to produce the first “Chinese” piano piece. Eleven Chinese composers submitted a total of 20 works. The winner was “The Buffalo Boys Flute”, composed by He Luting, and it remains a milestone for the development of an independent form of Chinese piano music.
Following Mao’s victory during the Chinese civil war, traditional Chinese folk songs were encouraged to be scored for piano, and a number of great pieces came from this initiative. “Happy Times”, also included here along with “Dialogue In Song” are both adaptations of popular folk songs from Hebei, while “Straw Hat Dance” is derived from the Chinese ballet “Yumeiren”. The trend continues to this day, rather like the reworking of many Italian folk songs in the 1800′s into Opera, and pieces such as Chen Peixun’s transcription of the classic “Autumn Moon On A Calm Lake” and Sun Yiqiang’s “Dance of Spring” are good examples. Lang Lang brings us up to date too; “Spring Wind” is from the recent Taiwanese film score of the same name.
Lang Lang’s career has been nothing short of stellar. Beginning his studies at the age of three, he began attending the Shenyang Conservatory of Music and won first prize in the city piano competition aged just five. In 1991, he entered the Beijing Central Music Conservatory, and began performing Western piano pieces in Concert Halls a few years later – his first recital being the entire Chopin Etudes. He also performed at the inaugural concert of the China National Symphony, and in 1997, aged just 15, began studies with Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. He got a break as a last minute substitution for Andre Watts at the Ravinia Festival “Gala Of The Century”, bringing the house down with a stirring rendition of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He has subsequently gone on to become one of the most sought after pianists with the world’s leading orchestras, performing recitals globally. He is currently artist-in-residence at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, based in Munich.
The release of both “Dragon Songs” and the fascinating DVD accompanying it are a must have for any collector of Classical music, and for anyone with an interest in contemporary Chinese culture.