The Pick: Lang Lang’s youthful fireworks with the Toronto Symphony

The Pick: Lang Lang’s youthful fireworks with the Toronto Symphony

(Image: Philip Glaser) 

The 29-year-old Chinese pianist Lang Lang has an unimpeachable image. He’s got perfectly sculpted spiky hair, lots of carefully draped scarves, a closet full of designer suits and a flair for the dramatic when he’s on the bench. With endorsement campaigns and sold-out arenas, he’s turned a classical performance career into a multi-million-dollar enterprise. Sometimes that works against him, obscuring the gifts that brought him such fame in the first place. But Lang Lang is the real deal, and Toronto audiences are being given the opportunity to hear his prodigious talent in a two-week residency with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Lauded for his command of the Romantic repertoire, the young pianist is playing to his strengths during his time in Toronto, with performances of all five Beethoven piano concertos. Tomorrow he takes on the restrained, elegant no. 2, and on Saturday he wraps up the series with no. 5, the majestic Emperor concerto.

Lang Lang’s playing is sometimes characterized as undisciplined or poorly thought out, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. For one thing, the agility he demonstrates on rapid passages is mind-boggling, an athletic balance between power and control. When we saw him perform the fourth concerto, the raw impetuousness of his reading brought some fun into the centuries-old music. His exuberant, playful phrasing and probing intensity always pulses with the spirit, if not the precision, of the complex piece—he lets the works breathe. Lang Lang is a young guy; refinement will come in time. For now, savour the youthful fireworks.

The Details: November 17 and 19, 8 p.m. $49–$179. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St., 416-872-4255, tso.ca.