Lang Lang gives masterclass

World-renowned pianist Lang Lang shared his enthusiasm and wisdom in an instructive and insightful masterclass in McConomy Auditorium last Tuesday. Dressed in a blazer and jeans, Lang was animated and introspective as he listened, directed, and critiqued the playing of three deserving pianists: Rishi Mirchandani of the Carnegie Mellon Music Preparatory School, Carnegie Mellon senior piano performance major Jimmy Liu, and Shannon Huang of Duquesne University’s Mary Pappert School of Music.

Each student played quite well for Lang and the appreciative audience. Lang instructed not only in technique but also in musical phrasing and expression. To the young Mirchandani, age 12, Lang Lang emphasized the “waltz feeling” the player needed to portray in Chopin’s “Waltz in C# minor.” He sang along and directed the phrasing, at times interspersing rhythmic stomping to make a point about rhythm. Musically, Lang accentuated the “different colors” in Chopin’s dominant melody, in that in the second time in the piece the melody is played, it needed to sound like “a distant memory.” Mirchandani, who was awestruck by the classical star but impressively kept his composure, understood and agreed with this notion.

“Let’s play some poetry,” Lang directed.

Next, Liu performed the Yellow River Piano Concerto, a signature piece of Lang’s. The piece, deeply endearing to the “East meets West” psyche in that it combines Chinese melodies with Western music methodology, has been performed by Lang numerous times in many different contexts, including at the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Liu, who started piano lessons in China and moved to the United States at age six, identified with the work’s cultural importance and chose it for that reason.

“This piece is like Gershwin’s An American in Paris, except in China,” Lang told an appreciative audience.
Liu admitted to being nervous at first, but once he became settled, he played beautifully, bringing out the intricate colors of the piece.

The masterclass was brought to Carnegie Mellon’s campus by a joint initiative between the Carnegie Mellon School of Music and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s department of Education and Community Engagement.

Kristi Ries, communications manager of the School of Music, noted that the masterclass was one of many shared events with the PSO last week, including a concert given by Vienna’s chief cantor Shmuel Barzilai and acclaimed pianist Paul Gulda at Rodef Shalom Temple and a lecture by Austrian scholar Herbert Lachmayer. The “Vienna Days” Festival is an effort to extend a warm welcome to Manfred Honeck, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s new music director, in his inaugural year.

Noel Zahler, head of the School of Music, together with Lawrence Tamburri, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, have brought artists like soprano Dawn Upshaw, composers John Corigliano and John Adams, and percussionist Evelyn Glennie to campus to give masterclasses, lectures, or coach chamber music. The interaction with students, Zahler hopes, could be “mutually beneficial.”

Lang Lang, noted for his “rockstar” appeal, was certainly a memorable experience for both the audience and the performers.

“What he brings to the table is something different than most other great pianists,” Liu said. “He uses so many colors when he plays and so much dynamic range.... He’s one of the greatest pianists in the world.”