On Sunday, I listened to Mr. Lang’s Gothenburg Variations at Zhuhai Grand Theatre.
- This was my first time to hear Lang Lang live and to hear the Gothenburg Variations live. Prior to that, I wrote a piece called “Why I say Lang Lang’s Gothenburg Variations are awful”, which was extremely derisive of Mr. Lang’s studio version. Of course, as a diehard Gouldian, someone who had been encouraged and healed by Gould’s Gothenburg Variations, I couldn’t possibly be happy with Lang’s version. But, “You can’t make Gould get up and play the Gothenburg for you,” said Mrs. Sakura. So we led Tiny Sakura to the Grand Theater with Mr. Bin Zhou, who had just finished his first solo piano recital at the Grand Theater in Yokohama the day before.
- We bought early bird tickets to the top of the mountain, the second to last row on the second floor, and Mr. Zhou said, “Look, it’s so far away, let’s call your title “Listen to Lang Lang play Gothenburg at the top of the 200m mountain”. I said, “Okay. Although the distance was so far that it took a few seconds for the sound to reflect back to us, Mr. Lang is really the best pianist in the world, and you can clearly hear his every touch from the top of the hill, whether it’s a low fugue or a rousing French overture, Mr. Lang can ensure that every seat in the audience can hear it clearly. So if you want to see Mr. Lang afterwards, you can feel free to grab low-priced tickets.
- Back to Lang Lang’s “Gothenburg”. On the whole, Lang Lang certainly has business pursuits to open the tour of Gothenburg in China, dare to challenge this work and take Gothenburg as his big work after his comeback. Like Mr. Zhou said, “Lang Lang has been a star for so many years and recorded variety shows, but he hasn’t lost any of his own business skills, which is a remarkable thing in itself.” In fact, for the general public, if you like Bach and want to hear a living person play “Gothenburg” for you, Lang Lang is almost the only choice at the moment. Even if I don’t like Lang Lang’s version, I have to RESPECT Lang Lang.
The biggest problem with the whole concert is that the combination of Lang Lang itself and the Göteborg is a good match. In Gould’s case, he can play the 30 variations + the two themes before and after the piece as one in both the juvenile and the older versions, and you do feel that “it’s a big piece with different variations along the way”. But Lang Lang is weak in handling the whole. He can be dazzling in the showstoppers, and he can be romantic in the parts that should be immersed, but …… Lang always feels like he’s in a state of shock. For example, in the 15th variation, the Canon in G minor, Lang Lang does touch the keys quite romantically, a style he is very good at; then all of a sudden, once he gets to the 16th variation, the beginning of the second part of the Göteborg, a French overture full of energy, Lang suddenly gets energized, feeling like he is thinking “Oh, the front is finally over now, let’s have some fun! “The audience was sitting on their backs, and when they heard the French Overture, they all straightened up again. The 19th variation, for example, was a very “Bachian” creative style, and then the 20th variation was a showy display of hands flying around – Lang was overdoing it again. As I understand it, Lang Lang is the world’s biggest box office star, he knows the audience’s emotions too well, so he knows that Bach has a threshold of understanding when it comes to live performance, and that if you play the parts of the genre and Polish dance, the live effect will be better, and the show-off part will be better. In the more religious pieces, such as Variations 21 and 22, and Variation 25, “The Black Pearl,” Lang did not “sink in” and he did not let me sink in with him. Simply put, it didn’t move me. These are the parts that I have been touched by in the past, whether in Gould’s or Zhu Xiaomei’s performances. Are you saying that Lang Lang didn’t eat up Bach? Of course not. I can only say that this is his understanding. Bach is in itself a work where “everyone pays attention to me”. Lang Lang pays a lot of attention to the tension of the scene, which is his characteristic, and even at the end, in the 30th variation, which is a beautiful melody with folk songs, he plays it almost in a Romantic + impressionistic way, which exaggerates the effect and is full of entertainment – including the final return to the theme variation, where Lang Lang Lang, in order to show “the journey of a lifetime”, which is also extremely exaggeratedly presented. I have preconceived notions that I don’t approve of, that’s all. It’s too dramatic, too run-of-the-mill. Of course, it’s one thing to like it or not, and it’s another thing for Lang Lang to be capable.
The reason why I would run to Zhuhai is because I couldn’t get tickets in Guangzhou. The tickets in Zhuhai were not sold out, and there were a very few high priced seats that were not sold out. I don’t expect to see Lang Lang in Guangzhou. In the words of Mr. Zhou, Zhuhai may be 100 people wanting to see Lang Lang and grab a seat; Guangzhou has to be 10,000 people grabbing a seat – but the concert hall is so big. I observed the scene, Zhuhai is a second-tier city, but Lang Lang’s high ticket price is really a filter, so many piano children, children similar to my daughter’s age, seven or eight years old, just patiently listened to 90 minutes of Gothenburg, not a sound came out, such a high threshold works, I also will not like things until after 35 years old, I express for the quality of children nowadays amazed. Also, I saw people with iPads on the floor, I don’t know if it was against the sheet music or how, but there were also people who kept taking notes, I guess they were all kids learning music. So, the ticket price is still a filter. If a family of three wants to see Lang Lang, the minimum spending is 3,000 yuan, and it’s 6,000 yuan to buy a better position, which is gone. This is a filter for people who can spend this kind of money to see. It’s really a costly business to learn music.
The last sentence sums up: Lang Lang is great, but I don’t like his Gothenburg; Gothenburg is a filter, both for musicians and for listeners. That’s it.