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Influences: Pianist Lang Lang

November 3, 2011 | 11:05 am

LangIn the stratosphere of classical music celebrities, pianist Lang Lang is that rare shining nova who is respected by critics and the public at large — arguably the closest the classical world has to a rock star. On Sunday, the 29-year-old pianist will perform a recital at Walt Disney Concert Hall of pieces including Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat, Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat and the 12 etudes by Chopin.

Speaking by phone Tuesday from San Francisco, Lang said that he is especially looking forward to the Schubert. "Even though Schubert wasn’t even 30, he already felt that he was approaching death, and you can feel that it in the slow movement," he said. "So the piece creates a special mood. It's my favorite Schubert piece."

Lang, who has been on the international music scene since he was 17, said his schedule will keep him on the road for the next few months. After L.A., he heads to Canada, followed by a return to Asia for a holiday tour. The Chinese pianist has a new Liszt album out and has recorded music for two new movies, "My Weekend With Marilyn" and "A Dangerous Method."

Lang shared his thoughts on the individuals who have influenced him during his career.

Gary Graffman: He was my piano teacher [at the Curtis Institute of Music] after I landed in this country. When I was young, I was very competitive, and always wanted to be No. 1. Each year there were thousands of competitions I wanted to tackle. I was 14 at the time. I told him I’d like to win everything. He said that I should focus on the progress of making music, not being No. 1. He didn’t allow me to join competitions, and I didn’t understand for a long time.

"Han": He lives in China and he’s actually a fruit seller — like watermelons — in one of the Beijing markets. When I was 9, I went to Beijing and had a difficult time because I got kicked out of class by my piano teacher — I called her Professor Angry. She didn’t want to teach me anymore. For a long time after that, I didn’t want to practice. Then I was walking around in the street and I saw someplace selling watermelon. I went there and I put my hand on a watermelon to play a little bit to hear the sound. Han asked me if I was a musician — he gave me a watermelon for free. I later became friends with him. I sometimes call him Uncle No. 2.

Michael Jordan: When I was a kid, I was practicing a lot. It can be quite boring. So one of my fave things was to watch the basketball playoffs — it was such a drive. I remember watching a game where Jordan had a fever but his concentration and his will to win the game were so incredibly strong that it made him a kind of Superman. I think that spiritual discipline inspired me to a better pianist.

My mother: She’s the most important person to me now. She’s traveling with me all the time. She makes sure everything is smooth in my life. I didn’t live with my mom for almost 10 years, from when I was 9 to 19. My mom stayed at home to earn money for me and my father.

A Tom and Jerry cartoon: This is the episode when they were playing the piano together. Tom is playing the keys and Jerry is having fun inside the piano. From the very beginning, this image stayed in my heart because it’s so much fun and joy. Later I realized what they were playing was Franz Liszt.


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-- David Ng

Photo: Lang Lang. Credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press