tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera April 11, 2016 3:00am-3:31am EDT
now. [ ♪ ] >> this week on "talk to al jazeera": international piano superstar lang lang. >> the art, you know, it's about, you know... the distance and in and out, big picture, precision. >> billions of people around the world have seen him perform. at the beijing olympics... the world cup in rio... even jaming at the grammys. >> as a musician we will collaborate with great
musicians. >> lang lang grew up in an industrial city in northern china. his father was a tough task master, demanding he practice 8 hours a day... once even urging his young son to commit suicide. >> it's kind of a hard thing to even think about it. it's something that... i think the love become too extreme. >> a child prodigy, his mother stayed home to support the family while lang lang pursued his dreams. >> i would say that's the most difficult thing for me it was, you know, growing up without my mom next to me. >> now lang lang is trying to bring classical notes into the lives of children through his international music foundation. >> we believe music can make people happier, to make the kids more creative. >> one of his earliest inspirations... the cartoon musicians tom and jerry. >> so it's really cool when you see, you know, tom try to catch him like... [plays discordant piano sounds].
>> i sat down with lang lang at the dimenna center for classical music in new york city. >> you've just come from playing at the kennedy center. you played for a worldwide audience with pharrell at the grammy's. i thought i was gonna say, oh, this is a busy time for you. but, actually you've slowed down a little bit. what drives you? >> for me, i like to do creative concerts, and creative projects. and - and i think really - music give me an energy to drive myself - to always try to get to another level. >> but, you know, you have had so much success it would be easy to say, "i could cut my concert schedule in half. >> i mean, compared to a few years ago - it's actually - reduced. i used to play, like, 160, and now i play 125. yeah. something like that. i cut the summer time off. >> and you do think about balance. i mean, i think that that is
something that you have written, that you had to learn. because, i guess, you had spent so much of your life, from even your early childhood, really focused on driving to be number one, as you've said. >> i mean, of course, now the - to think about number one is a silly thing. but when i was a kid i thought that there is kind of a number one target. when i was a kid, i always been, practice - also - study at school. so, it's, like, constantly working to be focused, and to be concentrated. and then - so, now i feel actually better, now. even though i still have a quite busy schedule. once i'm onstage everything is kind of really become magical, because that moment once you're onstage performing - it's timeless. >> in classical music you've been something of l'agent provocateur, that is
that you were people, critics, have come after you for being maybe too personalized in your approach. there are going to be critics who say to you, "what are you doing to classical music?" >> i think this is more question, i would say, more talk about it like five years ago. people still need to know what i'm doing. and i need to figure out what i'm doing, too, you know. so, it's totally fine to be questioned for some approach. for me, i always realized, first we need to respect the great work, and to be quality controlled. you need to be great off a real performance - real concert. you cannot cheat on that. once you cheat on your artistic approach, then you are not artist, and you are not pianist. so, for me that is always number one. okay? number one - priority, is to
practice, and to get the quality up there. >> to perfect that? >> yeah, i mean, i try to be. and then, in art you can be respectful to the composers, but also personal, you know? the - in art we're very liberal. there's not such a one rule that you can only play tchaikovsky in this way. you can only play beethoven in that way. you know, if that's the case, nobody want to become a musician. because being a musician, there's no limit. >> and similarly, you would say that about your collaborations with people like pharrell, or metallica. these are about musicians at the opposite end of the universe from your traditions. that's pretty out there. >> i mean, the important things are quite clear. they're wonderful musicians. and as a musician, we will collaborate with great musicians, no matter what- type
of genre - what type of style. >> do you learn something from the experience? >> absolutely. i mean, with metallica, i learn so much, and i kind of - harmonies, that i never played in classical music. but also, i found out, the things they are doing, sometimes it's similar to some of the contemporary music we are doing. like, let's say bartok, for example, you know? he's quite rock n' roll, with his concerto no. 2, concerto no. 1. >> bartok is rock n' roll? >> absolutely. >> i remember reading that you were describing what you see. when you hear music, you're seeing in your mind what you're playing. how do you do that? >> for music, everybody has their own kind of tricks, you know, how to get into your heart. whether it's through - kind of the imagination of the pictures, of - or you're reading the scores. and for me it always works with the - the - the emotion, emotion
approaches. approaching through - pictures. and movie motion pictures. i see landscapes, i see the themes from the movies. and i see, i just see a lot of things. and colors, and this - somehow it's - even though i'm actually looking into somewhere. but, actually, my vision are not there. >> i am struck by your life and your experience, almost at each point in your life, as an outsider. coming as an outsider to each point, that is you come from - a northern industrial city in china. not traditionally from beijing, not traditionally from the conservative system. >> right. >> you then broke into international competition. when you came to the states to study here, you were an outsider coming into it. do you always have that sense that you're moving through as an
outsider, and that you have something to prove with your music? >> i don't need to prove something in the music. i think it's a really it's kind of a good push. because your life - in our life, in everybody's life, nothing is guaranteed, you know? nothing is just come naturally. you really need to have some - maybe sometimes you work harder to get. sometimes you don't need to work so hard to get it. but you need to do something, (laughs) in order to - to get where you want, right? if i want to achieve my dreams i need to go through some - turbulence. >> because there was turbulence, to bring you to where you are today. and for people who have not followed your story, you lay it all out in "journey of a thousand miles", in your memoir. >> right. >> there were some very difficult periods. you and your father left your mother at home in your home city to move to
beijing. >> yeah. >> under very difficult circumstances, to try to bring your career forward, to make it into conservatory. your father, by the accounts you give, i think in the west that would be interpreted as the tiger dad. >> absolutely. yeah. >> the story that you tell, that your father told you had nothing to live for. he thought you had failed at a particular point. he suggested you commit suicide. what did you learn from that, looking back now? >> it's - i mean, it's kind of hard thing. you know, to even think about it. it's something that i think the love become too extreme, what you call? you know? and also, you know, every one of my family members, like my parents, and myself, we were under a lot of pressure. it's not completely, i mean, it's not completely my father's fault, or my fault, or my family
fault, or the teacher's fault. it just - somehow when you have - such a high hope, you know, you really believe you can do it, and you really want to do it, you know, you become very aggressive. and sometimes you make mistakes. so, that's why, you know, even though he was - brutal time, but i already forget - almost forget about it, you know? it's just - because we all changed. and we've become much more relaxed. that's including myself, my parents, and people who have a very high expectation, you know, in me, you know. so, that's why, you know, when i - when i see some - critical moment today. or when i see something, you know, kind of - challenging, i really f - just - you know, i'm not under such a pressure anymore. because i know, you know, let's - you know, let's find a solution. there's everything, there must be a solution - some -
somewhere. >> let me ask you though, do you think you would be the artist you are today had he not driven you that hard? had he not pushed that hard for you to succeed? >> it's hard to say, you know. pianistic talking, you know, like, the technique point - i'm actually quite grateful sometimes. because, you know, every kids are, you know, they want to play games. >> you wanted to play with transformers. >> yeah, i mean, nobody want to, you know, practice eight hours a day. now i only practice two hours. but the thing is that when everybody seeing me playing these days onstage in the- sometimes in the - particularly in a technical - technique. kind of people are like, "wow! your technique's amazing. how do you do it?" i'm like, yeah. constant practice works. >> how do you get to carnegie hall? you practice. right? >> yeah, you know so, it's not normal, you know, i wouldn't think, you know, to train any kid, you know, to just
do eight hours on something every day, just one thing. you know, eight hours. but, if you want to become a great pianist, that's the basic thing you need to do, is to constant practice. and constant - i mean, concentrate. constantly. you cannot say, "okay, tomorrow i feel tired i don't do it." no. tomorrow you do it. and the day after you still need to do it. and that's, that unfortunately we cannot get an escape from there. >> that is the sacrifice you have to make. >> yeah. yeah. >> another sacrifice that you made, and i will tell you that as a mother it's very hard to look at, to think that your mother let you go to pursue your dream. you and your father. >> right. >> left her at home to work, to make money for the family. but you did not see her for long periods of time. and i wonder what that's like for you now, looking back on it. >> i would say that's the most difficult thing for me.
it was, you know, grow up without my mom next to me. that's actually harder than practice. with practice, it's just- it's hard, but it's not that hard. but to not see your mother, and knowing that your mom is so - so close to you. and knowing that she still care about you. but you just cannot be with her. that's really horrible thing, i must say. so, from 9 to 19, i mean, i saw my mom occasionally. but only once in three months. >> for a few days. >> yeah, for a few days. and that's very hard. and i still remember, like, my mom mom finally came - i actually felt there's something - we - we're missing something. there's kind of a missing link between she and i. because i suddenly i become an adult, you know? after ten years. and i grow up already. so, it actually, it takes me, like, six years, you know, to
reconnect, you know? miss my mom, you know, in the, same way that, when i was a kid. you know, that really connection. >> your mother let go of a little boy, and she got back a man. >> yeah, something like that. she always have a dream that - still today, you know, she, "oh, i just dreamed of you when you were six," or something. of course, i - many mom will do that. but for her it will be kind of slightly different, because she didn't really see me. maybe she sees me every three months but... >> not watching you day-to-day. >> it's a bit bit sad. but now, you know, my mom travels me all - all the time. and people be like, "oh - why - you know, you're thirty-something. you're still - " you know. >> your mom's with you all the time - >> i say, yeah, but, you know, i - i'm trying to find that - lost ten years. when we return, lang lang tells us what chopin
>> i'm joie chen, you're watching "talk to al jazeera". our guest is classical superstar lang lang. >> you do quite a bit of work with young people very young talents, who are also interested in piano, and also want to be like lang lang, i guess. is that possible? particularly here in the west. i know in asia it's different. you're still a rock star. do you imagine a moment where classical music will have that kind of rock-star status in america? >> it depends. i mean, the - that - actually that doesn't really matter, whether it feels like rock star in america or not. because what i'm thinking about is just - there's no music class
in public schools here. and that's - that's really kind of - from day one, when i arrive in '97. my high school didn't have music class. >> and that surprised you? >> yeah. so, i'm like, "what!" wow, in china every school has a music class, at least. >> of course. >> you know? and i'm like why in america? i mean, this is, you know, considered to be the superpower. and doesn't have a music class? i mean, it just doesn't, you know, it - of course. >> doesn't value that. >> i mean, i just don't believe it. i really don't believe it. and - and then - and then i just must say, you know, and then i realize this is the reality here. but first, of course, i didn't, you know, i didn't spend so much effort on that. because there's nothing i can do. you know, i was unknown artist, you know? you cannot - >> trying to make your own way, right - yeah. >> do much, you know? you cannot really influence on them. so, then i realized, you know, in 2008 i started my own foundation, because i want to
change that, of course, you know, to change that is hard. but at least, you know, we are trying to bring awareness, you know, to the society. and also setting up a good example, you know, as a musician - that we believe music can make people happier. to make the kids more creative. so, we started to not only help the talented children. >> the next lang lang? >> yeah, maybe - you know, of course, nobody will be the same as, you know, whoever. but certainly, you know, they can be themselves. >> so, we start a school in harlem. in new york city. we start a school in boston. we start a school in other part of world. and so far, so good. we get a lot of students who never heard classical music. who never play piano before. they start playing songs,
or start to compose songs. and they start playing mozart. so we're starting that. >> so much of your life is now connected to america. you're still a citizen of hong kong. are you american today? are you chinese? who are you? >> i feel that i'm a citizen of the world, today. but i am chinese. i feel quite proud of - what china has done the last ten years. the evolvement, not only - economy, but also art and culture. and america is like my second home. i felt very close to - particularly in the east coast, because i grew up in philadelphia. >> when we return, lang lang on the cat and mouse game that inspired his music. tom & jerry, after the break.
>> i'm joie chen, you're watching "talk to al jazeera", where our guest is lang lang. >> is it still fun to - to play? >> absolutely. i mean, not every minute, but when we, you know, start for real playing it, it's just the best thing i do. 'cause that's why, you know, you can sit there eight hours you know? if it's - if eight hours, you only do - (piano) then nobody would ever do it. (laugh) >> you talk about tom and jerry. and people laugh and say, "oh, lang lang likes tom and jerry," the cartoon tom, jerry, the mouse. but the thing that you appreciated about them is their game of chase. you imagine them on the keyboard. >> the magic of - tom and jerry is that there's - there's always
constant war between them you know? and you're just - >> the mouse and the cat - >> yeah. it's just like - >> trying to fight it out. >> oh, my god. what's going on? the next one, okay. (laugh) so - so that's really cool when you see, you know, the - tom try to catch him, like - (piano) you know? i - i - i - that's just a little thing, but - the thing is what i like about - music, it's like a motion picture, like what we - discussed before. it's that you need to have something going on there. and music's not flat, you know? so that's why you need to have up and downs. take turkish march, which everybody knows. (piano) if you play - (piano) just the notes, it's kind of - but if - (piano). and the second time - (piano) the opposite. so -
>> you're really seeing that in your mind. >> you need to, you know? you know, it's an art. you know, it's about, you know, the distance and in and out, you know, big picture, precision. so you always need to have this contrast. and sometimes, then i play so, so - (piano) and then everybody thought that i fell asleep. but no. (piano) you know what i mean? so you need to tell a story, you know? maybe not so extreme, (laugh) you know, but you still need to have a peaceful thing. but you still need to have something. i hate music just played like, let's say - (piano) you know, you can be peaceful. but you can still, you know - (piano) and it's the small details - makes a huge difference. and then it becomes art piece or can be - a kind of a machine, you know? so it's - that's - one little
line there. but when you cross, it makes a huge difference. >> do you compose? >> that's on my future agenda. i don't know how many works i will compose. i - i don't know whether i'm talented enough. but certainly, probably, i will start with a simple ringtone, you know? (laughter) >> lang lang's ringtone. you can download it at the app store. >> just in - in this moment, i don't have it. but you know - (laughter) you talk to the world a lot now on social media. you are - what's your message about there? >> i think social media is so cool. because it's perfect - platform that you can share everyday life. but you can also - share, you know, what you do. you can also share what - whatever you want to eat. you know, it's - so it's - it's personal. it's professional. you know, you can do everything. and then you also, you know, sometimes, i'm checking out, "what is my friends doing on facebook or on twitter or on
instagram and also on weibo," the chinese version. >> but that is really your way, another way you have, of wanting to reach and share. >> yeah. i mean, for me i like to reach as many people through music as possible. because i believe that we all love music. oh, actually, musicians are no - are ordinary h - human beings. we are not like weird nerds, you know? it's like "hmm, i'm old. and this is my music making. i don't want to talk to you. (laugh) you look weird to me," you know? you know, i - you know, that - >> get your big, white wig and - >> yeah. i mean - i mean, the wig is cool, you know? but - but - (laughter) i actually - i had one for fun with my mom, you know? i did that. but anyway - but. >> a mozart wig or. >> yeah, a mozart wig, yeah. i took a picture. i - i was p - playing - (piano) kind of - kind of feeling, you know, kind of - that - that period of time, you know? but the thing is that all those musicians, i was, like, reading
their letters. for example, last - two nights ago, i was reading chopin's letters. oh, my god. he's always talking about, you know, what kind of food, what type of - coffee shop he liked to do. >> so he woulda been on twitter. >> absolutely. i mean, don't think they are, like, you know, like - of course, they're musical gods. but they're s - totally normal, you know? i mean, they were talking about what their favorite bread. "oh, i want to have apartment like that, you know, one salon. i saw two bedrooms.yeah. i mean, mozart is, like, always sending millions of kisses. "i want to kiss you thousand million times." i mean, for him, numbers are like nothing. i mean, thousand millions of times? i mean, what is that? >> you said you were working on a piece now that you had not played before. >> yeah. i'm - i'm now working on this rachmaninoff - the most romantic composure from russia - his - concerto number one. 'cause i did number two, number three and paganini variation.
and - and i want t - to have some new piece for me. but it's still very romantic, you know, like the normal rachmaninoff style. so rach 1 is really ideal. so i'm - i will play today for my - teacher, gary graffman - right after the show. so i go to his studio. so it sounds a little bit like - (piano)
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