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Lang Lang Creative Force in Cincinnati

Music Hall
05/04/2012 -  & May 5, 2012
Sergei Prokofiev: Concerto No. 3 in C Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 26
Tan Dun: Internet Symphony No. 1, “Eroica”
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, “Pathétique”, Op. 74

Lang Lang (piano)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Long Yu (guest conductor)

L. Lang (Courtesy of CSO)

Pianist Lang Lang is one of three creative directors guiding the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra this season (a leadership arrangement, including Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and Philip Glass, initiated by the CSO board of trustees after former music director Paavo Järvi stepped down last spring)*. As such, he has been responsible for planning and overseeing five of the orchestra’s 20 subscription concerts. He has performed as soloist on two of them. The second, May 4 at Music Hall, was also the final concert of the CSO season.

In many ways, it was a typical symphony concert. The musicians wore formal dress, and the program included music by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. It was also cutting-edge, even “back to the future.” Also on the program was Tan Dun’s Internet Symphony No. 1, “Eroica”, commissioned by Google and YouTube for the World Wide Web. And nearly a century after its composition, Lang Lang performed Prokofiev’s 1921 Piano Concerto No. 3 with a “piano cam” projecting images of him, including close ups of his hands, onto a screen above the stage.

Reversing customary program order, the concert began with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” and ended with the Prokofiev Concerto, all the better to focus on Lang Lang (and end the evening on an optimistic note).

On the podium was guest conductor Long Yu in his CSO debut. One of the world’s finest conductors (chief conductor/artistic director of the China Philharmonic, music director of the Shanghai and Guanzhou Symphonies and founding artistic director of the Beijing Music Festival), he led a profoundly moving performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony.

Lang Lang lit the fuse in the Prokofiev following the clarinets’ dreamy introduction. Runs and squirrely passages (often executed at great speed), thumping rhythms, melodic moments voiced just so -- everything was in place for a thoroughly mesmerizing experience. The grace and agility with which he struck the keys were a wonder to behold. The variations in the second movement were beautifully characterized, and the third movement was a thrill ride as only he can deliver, with a gorgeous contrasting theme that soared to a stirring climax (mirrored by his face on the screen). Expertly guided by Long Yu, the CSO performed with exceptional skill and color. Having earned non-stop applause, Lang Lang performed an exquisite encore, Chopin’s Etude No. 2.

Long Yu’s command and depth of feeling in the Tchaikovsky were unexcelled in this listener’s experience, from the scene-setting Adagio, with its super-soft double basses and solo bassoon rising from the depths. Everything was vivid and precise in the first Allegro, from the clarinets’ exposition of the touching second theme, to the great cry of pain preceding the quiet end. The cellos sang smoothly in the famous 5/4 “waltz,” and the third movement emitted sparks, then volcanic eruptions, in the huge, rushing scales that led to the repeat of the march theme. Long Yu put down his baton in the finale (Adagio lamentoso), beginning ever so tenderly, then growing agonized until the strings conjured labored breathing at the end.

Tan Dun’s “Internet” Symphony, premiered online by the London Symphony in 2008, was first performed live in 2009 by the YouTube Symphony -- 90 players auditioned via videos posted on YouTube. Just four minutes long, with four “micro-movements,” it is a delightful salute to universal connectedness (“the Internet is an invisible silk road,” Tan Dun says). It has a lovely, folk-like melody (introduced by the trumpet in the second “movement”), infectious rhythms and plenty of instrumental color, including brake drums struck with mallets. The quotation from Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, a kind of dedication to the “heroes” of the Internet, pops up gleefully in the third movement. The CSO played it all with spirit and relish, eliciting a warm response from the crowd.

During his week-long residency in Cincinnati, Lang Lang also took part in a Q&A session webcast live from Music Hall and a master class for winners of the CSO/Lang Lang YouTube Piano Competition, with finalists selected from videos entered on YouTube.

*Järvi’s successor, Louis Langrée, announced April 24, begins his tenure in September, 2013.

Mary Ellyn Hutton



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