Lang Lang, classical music rock star, praises Queensland Symphony in Brisbane
"They were very prepared for the first rehearsal, top-class. I was deeply impressed, it sounded like we had had so much rehearsal, so I think it is going to be a great concert."
There has probably not been too many visitors to QPAC's Concert Hall who have required security to be stationed outside their dressing room door.
But then most visitors to the Concert Hall aren't described as the rock star of classical music.
Speaking exclusively to Fairfax Media before his debut performance in Brisbane, Lang Lang, who has performed with the greatest orchestras in the world and Metallica, was casual and relaxed despite having just rehearsed one of the most challenging piano pieces in the repertoire.
Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.3 requires immense skill just to play – but to inject personality, virtuosity and freshness requires someone special. For Lang Lang it is a walk in the park.
"It was a challenge when I was first learning it," he said. "But it is a piece I have known for many years, that helps a lot, so it is a little bit less challenging than the new concertos I am learning."
Having had the opportunity to return to the piece many times, he is able to extract something fresh from it every time it he plays it.
"Every time I play this piece I get a lot of enjoyment," he said. "There is a tremendous technical aspect to it but every time I get to bring something new, find new areas to click with."
Lang Lang began playing the piano at the age of three. Three decades later he is one of the world's biggest classical music stars. In his native China he has more than 40 million followers on social media, and he has been called on to perform at the 2014 World Cup, the Grammy Awards and the Beijing Olympics. His legendary performance at The Last Night of the Proms had critics raving.
Aside from his surprise performance with Metallica, Lang Lang has collaborated with Alicia Keys, 2Cellos and his upcoming album will see him work with jazz legend Herbie Hancock. But he doesn't want to stray too far from that which he loves most.
"I don't like to do (musical crossovers) all the time, maybe 5 per cent of my time I like to try something new to see what other musicians are doing outside classical music and get some inspiration and see if there is something I can learn," he said. "I started accompanying singers like Cecilia Bartoli, Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming and so on and gradually I thought I had learnt so much from those singers I thought about working with singers who aren't classical ... John Legend, Metallica, Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys and others."
Despite these impressive, and lucrative, collaborations, Lang Lang's heart lies deep in the classical canon.
"(At home) I play the Goldberg Variations, that's an infinite piece for me, or Brahms' first concerto or even Beethoven's late sonatas," he said. "I think those pieces, you can still make huge change in different ages and you can bring something new out."
And he is still adding to his extensive repertoire.
When his next album, themed around New York, is completed he will begin exploring the works of Spanish composers and hopes to record that.
"I like to challenge myself each year to do something with a different flavour," he said.
For now, Lang Lang has packed houses in Australia to perform to and he has nothing but praise for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, with which he will perform on Tuesday night.
"They were very prepared for the first rehearsal, top-class," he said. "I was deeply impressed, it sounded like we had had so much rehearsal, so I think it is going to be a great concert."
In Brisbane, along with the Prokofiev piece, he will play Ravel's arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Sydney audiences will be treated to a program of Tchaikovsky, Bach and Chopin, each selected to display Lang Lang's virtuosic skill.
Lang Lang plays the QPAC Concert Hall on Tuesday, June 7, at 7.30pm and the Sydney Opera House on Wednesday, June 8, at 8pm.
Interviewer: Nathanael Cooper, Brisbane Times