Classically Trained: Lang Lang makes music his own

Lang Lang isn't a pianist to suit all tastes.

I suppose no musician is, but in any case, there were a few times when he didn't suit mine last week.

The 30-year-old Chinese virtuoso made a single stop in Costa Mesa on Sept. 27. He played with the Pacific Symphony in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. As conductor Carl St.Clair noted, he took on not one, but two concertos.

Impressive indeed, no matter how you square it.

But the manner in which this superstar — a superstar by classical world standards, that is — played Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, the lauded "Emperor," surely got those of us thinking who are used to these pieces (especially the Beethoven) being played a certain way.

Like any good artist, Lang makes the pieces his own — his own being, more often than not, lightning fast and aggressive. And that's a lot fun to hear sometimes.

And sometimes it's annoying when you just want the notes not to be banged out, to be played with more sensitivity and perhaps, dare I say, more meaning.

Though it would be unfair of me to say Lang couldn't and didn't do everything. He could take his time to both savor the subtleties and rush forward in a blaze of octaves and arpeggios. All the while, he certainly kept my interest going, even if I didn't agree with his methods.

To a degree, that's a successful performance. Though I never felt fully satisfied.

In the Liszt, his ease in maintaining fast fingers was extraordinary, probably the most extraordinary I've ever heard. It could be a rage of piano glory. He made it look easy.

In the Beethoven, what set him apart as extra-impressive in the Liszt before wasn't true to the same degree. Throughout it, he seemed a bit aloof — which is probably why I heard two entrance miscues I wasn't expecting — and in his own zone. It was St.Clair's job to interpret that zone on the fly.

I didn't always care for the heavy-handedness of his playing but couldn't deny his watchable ferocity achieving it. He could even turn on the gas, go full steam ahead and then take it away just as quickly.

When it was all over, he received his thunderous applause, as would be expected.

The Pacific Symphony throughout the night accompanied Lang well, and they held their own nicely in a run-through of Rimsky-Korsakov's venerable "Capriccio Espagnol."


In memory of Bill Roberts

Also of note: Last week's concert was dedicated to the memory of Bill Roberts, a former member of the Pacific Symphony's board of directors who died in August. He was 80.

The Newport Beach resident and longtime arts philanthropist, whom St.Clair called a "quiet pillar of our arts community," co-founded the Emulex Corp., a computer technology company now based in Costa Mesa.

Roberts designed the Pacific Symphony's first website, which was one of the first of any orchestra in the U.S., according to John Foryste, president of the Pacific Symphony.

His obituary said his eclectic music tastes ranged from bluegrass and opera to Sinatra and Puccini, and that he danced like Fred Astaire.


Russian music at OCC

The music people at Orange Coast College are playing a Russian repertoire in a concert Saturday.

The 8 p.m. performance at the Costa Mesa campus' Robert B. Moore Theatre, 2701 Fairview Road, features the college's orchestra, chamber singers and chorale — more than 150 musicians total, according to an OCC press release.

Works by Alexander Borodin and the Ravel-orchestrated version of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" are on the lineup.

Best of all is the price: Tickets are only $10 at (714) 432-5880, or the door.

BRADLEY ZINT is a classically trained musician and a copy editor for the Daily Pilot. Email him story ideas at or follow him on Twitter @BradleyZint.

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