Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009

Lang Lang

A couple of years ago I went to Disney Hall to hear the L.A. Philharmonic play Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and to hear the new phenomenon, Lang Lang. He sounded absolutely amazing. I got to meet him backstage, and he's so warm and funny. It took me by surprise, because I think of classical music as being so serious. Soon after that, we were performing together on the Grammys.

We're doing a tour together this summer, and one day he came over because we needed to make some decisions about Rhapsody in Blue. He started playing Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, and I started improvising on top of it, and we were having a grand old time. Lang, 26, has been playing the piano since he was 2 or 3 years old, and apparently he got turned on to it watching Tom and Jerry cartoons in China. When he's just messing around — which he does a lot — he'll play comic riffs that sound like they're from cartoon music. He's having fun.

But his playing is also so sensitive and so deeply human. He has started the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, dedicated to supporting young pianists around the world. You hear him play, and he never ceases to touch your heart. And he's fearless. He's not afraid to burst the bubble of false élitism. He'll wear a new kind of tux, with tennis shoes. That's cool.

Hancock is a Grammy-winning pianist and composer

See why Lang Lang made the TIME 100 list