Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lang Lang and Friends - Chopin, Franck, Brahms, Beethoven, Fabricius, Ghost, Poe, Harrison, Legend, will-i-am & Canteloube - 06/03/13

Host: Alec Baldwin
Chopin: Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 55, No 2 - Lang Lang
Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante in E-Flat Major, Op. 18 - Lang Lang
Liszt: Campanella - Lang Lang
Franck: Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano - Joshua Bell & Lang Lang
Brahms: Hungarian Dance No 1 in G Minor (Allegro molto) - Kate Xintong Lee & Jonathan Jun Yang
Brahms: Hungarian Dance No 2 in D Minor (Allegro non assai - Vivace) - Derek Wang & Charlie Liu
Brahms: Hungarian Dance No 5 in F-sharp Minor (Allegro - Vivace) - Anna Larsen & Derek Wang
Beethoven: Piano Sonata for four hands in D Major, Op. 6 - Lang Lang & Johnson Zhonxin Li
Chopin: Tristesse - Oh Land & Lang Lang
Fabricius & Poe: Oh Land, Lang Lang & Joshua Bell
Harrison: Here Comes the Sun - John Legend & Lang Lang
Legend & will-i-am: Ordinary People - John Legend & Lang Lang
Canteloube: Baïlèro - Renée Fleming & Lang Lang
Canteloube: Malurous qu'o uno Fenno - Renée Fleming & Lang Lang

On Monday night, my Carnegie Hall season ended with a particularly resounding bang thanks to the benefit gala Lang Lang and Friends. Originally scheduled for the end of October 2012 and then postponed because of Sandy, this long sold-out musical extravaganza had lined up classical music superstars of today, such as Joshua Bell and Renée Fleming, and tomorrow, with some of the brightest students supported by the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. Personalities from other musical realms, such as John Legend and Oh Land, were included in the program too, the reliably entertaining Alec Baldwin was supposed to host, the whole thing would benefit musical education, and I would have an excuse to leave work early, so what was not to love?

It all started rather traditionally with Lang Lang doing what he still does best: Playing the piano. And the fact of the matter is, regardless of what the naysayers like to assert, the man is clearly talented. His technique is nothing short of astonishing and as the brazen young prodigy is maturing, so is his playing. Maybe even more important for such an event, this new philanthropist possesses a truly engaging personality, which makes it easy for him to immediately catch, retain and then direct the attention of unsuspecting audiences. His Chopin and Liszt pieces were by turns downright brilliant, overly embellished, borderline goofy and genuinely touching. Considering the music-for-all spirit of the occasion, we happily gobbled it all up.
Moving along with more popular tunes, Lang Lang was next accompanied by violinist Joshua Bell, who certainly needs no introduction either, for my beloved Franck Sonata. Although the two musicians proved to be a winning pairing, their noteworthy performance of this intensely luminous work was not quite as impeccably soaring as the ones I've heard by Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk. But the thunderous ovation that spontaneously erupted right after... the first movement and the other one at the end categorically confirmed that we were witnessing a unique encounter of musical forces and there was no reason to fuss whatsoever.
After the intermission, M. C. Alec Baldwin appeared onstage and the festive mood went up a notch or two. Young protégés of Lang Lang's Foundation showed their remarkable stuff with movements from three Hungarian Dances by Brahms and quickly won everybody over. But the budding virtuoso who stole our hearts was nine-year-old cutie Johnson Zhonxin Li, who played Beethoven's Piano Sonata for four hands in D Major side-by-side with Lang Lang with boundless energy and imperturbable poise. That is certainly one way to make one's Carnegie Hall debut in a packed Stern auditorium.
The pop portion of the evening was filled by collaborations with the Danish singer Oh Land for Chopin's "Tristesse" and her own "Love You Better", for which Joshua Bell made one more appearance. The R&B pianist and vocalist John Legend was at hand for George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" and his own "Ordinary People". For all the numbers, Lang Lang took a respectful backseat while still substantially contributing at the keyboard.
Some of the best had been saved for last with celebrated soprano Renée Fleming, who eventually showed up to sing subdued arrangements of two short Auvergnat folk songs (?!), which in all likelihood had never received such a luscious treatment. Probably sensing our breathless eagerness for more, she briefly got back to business as usual with a gorgeous "Mio babbino caro", which she dedicated to her father in the audience. As she rightly pointed out, it is simply impossible to go wrong with Puccini's universally loved aria.

When the official program was over, the young people who had quietly been sitting on two rows in the back of the stage finally got their turn in the spotlight when they joined Lang Lang, Renée Fleming, John Legend and Oh Land for a feel good, if still kind of corny, "Climb Every Mountain". Quite a departure from the Chopin opening, but an eloquent testimony to the unifying power of music.

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