David Remnick Profiles the Chinese Pianist Who Will Liberace Up the Olympics


Lang Lang, the Chinese pianist profiled by editor-in-chief David Remnick in this week's New Yorker (sadly not online), is a rock star in his native country. When traveling around China, Lang is handed bouquets so often and must rid himself of them so quickly that during Remnick's nine days trailing the pianist, he says, "I felt like a maid of honor." Remnick's profile offers a fascinating view of a young man who proves that, when one is (as a caption puts it) "an avatar of the Chinese ascendance," it is still possible to get rich from classical music; Lang Lang earns as much as $250,000 for a single private recital.

Lang's penchant for "moony gyrations and emotive expressions" while playing annoy classical-music critics, including the Times' Anthony Tommasini, who walked out of Lang's Carnegie Hall debut in 2003. (Tommasini has since reviewed another Lang performance more positively.) In addition to offering plenty of food for thought about the ways in which the upcoming Olympics might change the cultural world — Lang is rumored to be the star of the opening ceremonies — Remnick's piece made even a classical-music dunce like us want to see him in action, wearing his crazy outfits and playing Chopin with an orange. The above clip, of Lang playing The Yellow River Concerto, makes clear that Remnick is not exaggerating either about Lang's piano-bench histrionics or about the lameness of this much-reviled Cultural Revolution concerto-by-committee.

Imagine this dude, dressed Liberace style, atop a column in Beijing's Olympic stadium, almost definitely playing this song, and you'll have a good idea why we never watch Olympic opening ceremonies.

The Olympian [NYer, not online]