The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Pianist Lang Lang celebrates French music, female composers in latest album

By Park Ga-young

Published : March 11, 2024 - 15:35

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Lang Lang (Universal Music Group) Lang Lang (Universal Music Group)

In bringing to life a long-envisioned French project, celebrated pianist Lang Lang stumbled upon a wealth of intriguing discoveries, spanning from the works of five female French composers to even the world of Taekwondo, a Korean martial art.

He said he wanted to do a French project for a long time, but it wasn't until he encountered Saint-Saens' Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22, “which is underrated despite its excellence,” that he decided to make a French album.

Lang's Deutsche Grammophon album “Saint-Saens,” unveiled on March 5, features the piano concerto and "The Carnival of the Animals" performed with the Gewandhausorchester under conductor Andris Nelsons and Gina Alice, Lang's wife, as the second pianist.

"The Carnival of the Animals," "one of the most famous pieces on earth," according to him, and the "underrated" piano concerto, is “a real good combination between the very virtuosic romantic French composer and the impressionist.”

“There are some orchestras that are kind of a bit arrogant toward Saint-Saens songs. They told me for 'The Carnival of the Animals,' they like to spend 20 minutes on a rehearsal and then to record and I said that's like ridiculous. It's very important to show the new generation of conductors they have to be serious,” Lang said, expressing his gratitude for the Gewandhausorchester and conductor Andris Nelsons for their professionalism.

The album marks the beginning of Lang’s collaboration with a new generation of conductors like Andris Nelsons, he said.

“Nelsons is a professional Taekwondo practitioner, and we talk about the concentration and then the speed and the control of Taekwondo. Comparing it to conducting on stage is quite interesting. I learned a lot,” Lang noted, showing his appreciation for the orchestra and the maestro.

Additionally, the album, which comes in two compact discs, also includes Ravel’s "Pavane pour une infante defunte," M. 19, Debussy’s "Petite Suite," CD 71a, Faure’s No. 7 from "Requiem," Op. 48 as well as compositions by five female composers.

Lang sheds light on music by the five female French composers largely overlooked until recent years, including Lili Boulanger, who was the first woman to win the coveted Prix de Rome, Charotte Sohy, Louise Farrenc, Germaine Tailleferr and Melanie Bonis alias Mel Bonis.

“Now that we're in the 21st century, it's important to discover or rediscover some great composers who may have been overlooked, not only among female composers but also among those whose works may have been somewhat hidden within the vast repertoire of piano music. We aim to bring these composers and their works to life” he said.

Even though his album includes some rare pieces, Asian listeners may find them familiar, he said.

“French composers, compared to German or Russian composers, have more like artistic, cinematic music. So I think probably because of this, people are not really going deep down with French composers, unfortunately. But as an Asian, I think the French music is the most familiar to oriental music,” he said.

Lang is set to perform a recital in Korea on Nov. 30.