Arts & Entertainment

Bach is like playing Lego, designing a pyramid of Egypt: Lang Lang

By Javier Triana

Beijing, Sep 20 (efe-epa).- Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang has been a child prodigy, a world renowned pianist, made pop guest appearances, and has a friendly and frank manner that elicits laughter from his team.

These days, Lang Lang, born in Shenyang, China in 1982, is presenting his interpretation of “Goldberg Variations,” one of the most famous works of the German composer and musician of the Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach.

The release of the work, to which he has dedicated more than 20 years, has clashed head-on with the coronavirus pandemic and forced him to cancel dozens of concerts apart from three in Germany in March, one of them next to Bach’s grave in Leipzig.

These days, he spends most of his time interacting with the media via videoconference.

“I have to connect with my international fans, so it’s fine. (But) It’s hard, 12 hours talking (every day) is not easy. You can see I have a lot of tea, juice, pear… coffee (to) maintain my spirits,” said Lang Lang, seated at the piano in the small studio he has set up to interact with the media.

QUESTION: Do you remember the first time you heard “Goldberg Variations”?

ANSWER: The first time i heard (it) from Glenn Gould. He was playing some very interesting-sounding Goldberg Variations which I never thought it can be possible to play in these dynamics (…) I was so overwhelmed by his playing and I thought maybe I should do this piece too.

The piece in the beginning is quite an easy melody (he plays it for a couple of seconds) But that’s an illusion! Because it’s very, very hard to play.

As a kid, my teacher taught me so many Baroque pieces. But then as a teenager I didn’t do so much Bach. I became much more into the Romantic style.

Then years ago I started re-learning more Baroque music and starting to play more Bach in the concerts and try to find the sound of an ideal Bach, not a childhood Bach. An ideal mature sound.

Q: So does Bach sound different as you grow up?

A: Yeah. Bach and Mozart are the two most changing composers. When you are a kid, you think Bach is almost like playing Lego, like Legoland, with a different voice here and another voice there… and you combine them together, you synergize them together. It’s almost like a kind of mind game.

Q: A mind game? But in theory this work was composed to induce sleep…

A: He composed it for Russian diplomat Keyserling (who had trouble falling asleep) and he put Goldberg (his best student) to play for the Russian diplomat every second day to put him to sleep.

But at the end of the day this is not a sleeping pill. This is not a sleeping pill. This is almost like Inception. You know the movie? Almost like that – so many layers… I tried to sleep with this piece! And i was very successful in the first five minutes and then right away I got up! (plays a rousing passage while he mimics waking up).

And then I fall asleep again (plays a slower passage while nodding as if falling asleep) and then (another rousing part while he opens his eyes). So it’s always… you kinda always wake (up) in this piece.

Q: Haven’t you slept well in the last 20 years of studying the “Variations” then?

A: Not really… This piece is not easy. Sometimes (it) makes me feel fear, sometimes (it) makes me feel pain, disconnected. It’s not simple.

Q: What makes it so special?

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