Glass speaks to Hublot ambassador and world-renowned pianist Lang Lang

GLASS met leading pianist Lang Lang in a cosy room in the Dorset Square Hotel in Marylebone. Modest, passionate and ever so pleasant, the Chinese pianist’s effervescent and tender personality warmed the cold of the evening. Thoughtfully speaking about both this artistic and educational pursuits, he is an artist in more than one sense of the word, he aims to use music and his piano-playing as a bridge between China and the West, in addition to spreading knowledge and schooling. Glass spoke with him about his passions, ambitions and what it means for him to represent his home country, China.

Lang Lang. Photograph: Hublot

What attracted you to learn the piano over other instruments?
I had a piano already at home, so it saved some budget if I started. I just liked piano the most, I know there are other instruments I like, but piano is my thing.

What has been your most memorable performance?
There have been so many good concerts. You know, first time playing Carnegie Hall, first time playing… and the Olympic Games in Beijing, I’d say… the opening. There have been so many good moments; I just don’t know.

You’re already so well-accomplished, do you have any other ambitions you would like to realise?
Yeah, I’d like to do more educational stuff. And recently I did something I feel quite happy about: this piano album, it has a real score and it’s music that inspired me the most as a kid – you know, Für Elise and Mozart Sonata, that type of piece which I believe will be very useful for the beginners and music lovers. My new big projects are educational tools, books, technique books, piano methods, that type of thing. And for public schools to teach music generally.

What challenges have you faced in your career? And how have you overcome them?
Life is difficult. It’s never easy. You just have to be patient and there’s always difficulties, whether it’s artistically or physically – you know, you get an injury – there’s always something happening. You just need to find a way to deal with it. In the end, it’s life. We must follow our dream and never give up. Try to find a solution.

That’s very good advice. You’re an advocate for musical education for UNICEF and the youngest member of Carnegie Hall’s Artistic Advisory Board. How did you become involved with these organisations?
I always try to take responsibility for something. In our lives, it isn’t just about making music, you also have to be influential. I see many great musicians are not just musicians, they are also taking artistic decisions or charitable decisions. I became an UNICEF ambassador at age of 20 and then I became a Messenger Of Peace four years ago. I learned a lot from those positions because you have to study first: what does the world need? What’s the problem in the world? So, you get the bigger picture. You go to the United Nations for meetings – it’s pretty nice, you sit there and meet very experienced people in politics or in science or in law and then you start talking about your view on changing the world. It’s much bigger than just who we are.

Lang Lang. Photograph: Hublot

What was your reaction to being named the latest ambassador for Hublot? What do you see as the synergy between the company and yourself?
It has already been four years, it’s the fifth year, actually. I really love this brand because I have worked with other watch brands before, this is not my first watch brand ambassadorship. But the thing is that I really love them [Hublot] the most because they’re so innovative; they’re so creative. The watch business can be quite a traditional one, if you look into the Swiss watchmakers, they’re mostly hundred years old, two hundred years old. They’re timeless.

Some companies, I wouldn’t say are lazy, but are less energetic for creating new products. For Hublot, everything is about creating something new. Their factory is like a real artist’s factory: they’re not making watches, they are making art. And also the people that they work with, like pop stars, they don’t just hire them as their face, but they are really getting ideas from those people. And so we make music watches, even this one has a mini repeater. [ He displays his personal watch and begins to explain it.] You see, they keep going and are always creating something new and cool, always creating new material. I play the piano so I really like black and gold, kind of like the piano colours. I want to play with my watch and so this is super light, you should try it [he removes watch for me to try].

Oh yes, that’s perfect!
Yes! It weighs nothing! So, I really love to work with those companies who really want to make something different.

Many people use music as an outlet for relaxation, what do you do to unwind?
I like to listen to jazz to relax. I also quite like rap music and EDM – I’m thinking of doing some collaborations with some nice DJs, we’re working on that.

That’s a really interesting collaboration, I’m looking forward to that. You are so well-known in China and globally, how does it feel to represent your home country?
It’s actually… the time today is quite different from when I came out for my first visit to Europe when I was a teenager. So already, today, China is becoming a very important player in the world. But still, there are a lot of things that people really don’t know about China and there are a lot of things about the West that China doesn’t know as well. There’s a lot of space, that I think we can fill better. And I think, as a guy from China, what I really want to do is teach more Chinese stories to the West; not just something very primitive but more personal stories.

I think that will help people to learn about the Chinese culture more easily, I would say that’s what’s best about personal stories. Another thing is that Chinese culture is quite a unique one – it has a very focused Chinese way of thinking and the Chinese philosophy and we somehow have to learn how to combine this ancient civilisation with the modern world, to have a better understanding. This is challenging, it’s not that easy. If you talk to the right people, it’s easy, but a lot of people really don’t know what they’re doing, I just try to do more. To build more bridges.

I just have one more question – and I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, but what advice would you give to anyone who wishes to learn the piano?
Just open your ears and open your heart. The more you appreciate music or appreciate the piano, the piano will always give back something. Just listen and learn, listen and learn, share and give, share and give. It’s quite like breathing, just make the connection. In the end because the piano is a big instrument, you have to somehow make it smaller. Find a personal way to make it smaller.

by Robyn Ngan

Piano Book by Lang Lang is released on March 29, 2019, preorder here