The Lang Lang Fest hosted by the Accademia di Santa Cecilia at the Auditorium Parco della Musica

Autographed 'Lang Lang Fest' programme
After thrilling the Santa Cecilia audience in a wonderful solo performance in January last year the virtuoso pianist and genuine classical music superstar Lang Lang returned to the Auditorium Parco della Musica for a concert marathon of four shows on consecutive evenings from 2 to 5 June – the Lang Lang Fest. At twenty-six Lang Lang has already clocked up too many accolades to mention in this review and was listed as one of Time magazine's most influential people in The 2009 TIME 100 earlier this year.

The fact that Lang Lang started playing the piano at age three after seeing Tom play the Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 by Liszt in a Tom and Jerry cartoon is now legendary, yet it's worth remembering because one of Lang Lang's great achievements is his ability to break down the walls of snobbery and elitism that pervade the classical music world and also his determined encouragement of very young musicians through his own foundation.

A charismatic showman during performances - he almost seems to talk to his Steinway whilst playing - he is not without his detractors, although personally I'm puzzled as to how anybody could hear him perform and not be moved by the sensitivity of his playing which goes so much deeper than the mere bravura of which he is sometimes accused. As Herbie Hancock recently said of him - his playing is [...] so deeply human.

I was lucky enough to see him on two of the evenings in Rome this week. During the solo piano recital on Wednesday he performed a stunning first set of Schubert, then opened the second half of the performance with a simply jaw-dropping Bartok (which, unusually for Lang Lang, he played with the score in front of him) and a wonderful selection of Debussy Preludes closing with one of Chopin's most famous pieces, the Heroic. The audience response was rapturous and he returned on stage for several curtain calls - a spontaneous cheer erupted as he took to the piano again for a final encore in which he played a traditional Chinese folksong from the Yellow River Piano Concerto (found on his Dragon Songs CD).

On Friday evening, he closed the festival with Chopin's Piano Concerto No.1 in an impeccable performance with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, conducted by the esteemed Christoph Eschenbach (with whom he recorded a recent CD of Beethoven piano concertos), returning to the stage for an exquisite encore of more Chopin - Etude No. 3, Op. 10 in E major.

He may polarise opinion with the general public and critics on differing sides but the long line of fans of all ages who queued for a signed CD and the chance to meet Lang Lang in the book shop at the Auditorium on Friday evening seemed in no doubt as to Lang Lang's exceptional talent. See this man perform if you get the opportunity!

Full setlists:

3 June, 2009

  • Schubert - Sonata D. 959
  • Bartók - Sonata BB 88 Sz. 80
  • Debussy - A selection of Preludes from Book I and II
  • Book I
  • La fille aux cheveux de lin
  • Les collines d'Anacapri
  • La cathedrale engloutie
  • Minstrels
  • Book II
  • La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune
  • Bruyères
  • Feux d'artifice
  • Chopin - Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, the "Heroic
  • Encore - Traditional Chinese folksong
5 June 2009
  • Chopin - Piano Concerto No. 1
  • Encore - Chopin Etude No. 3, Op. 10 in E major
  • (also in programme Tchaikovsky Symphony n. 4 directed by Christoph Eschenbach)