Maxim Lando is a 15 year old American pianist. In 2017 at the age of fourteen, Maxim performed Rachmaninoff 3rd Concerto with the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra in Saint Petersburg, receiving rave commentary on the popular Russian TV Kultura program Tzar’s Box. Maxim also had the great honor to perform at Carnegie Hall’s Opening Night Gala Concert together with Lang Lang, Chick Corea, and the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin in an unprecedented three-pianist rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
There’s lots more I could tell you, but you can find a more detailed biography on his website or check him out for yourself on youtube.
Maxim is in Toronto performing March 1st on a revised Toronto Symphony Orchestra program led by Peter Oundjian, revised because the featured performer, pianist Lang Lang, has developed tendinitis.
Lang Lang also happens to be Maxim’s mentor.
Of course I had to ask Maxim some questions.
Are you more like your father or your mother?
I feel like I am a combination of many traits from both of my parents. I definitely share their stubborn persistence, especially about ideas and passions. My entire family (including grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins) is full of determined, strong-willed people, and I would have to say that I have inherited that quality. My parents have a particularly relaxed view of life, almost always looking at the humorous side of things. My home is full of quick loud outbursts (because we are all stubborn and passionate) and then a lot of irreverent laughter. I think I am the same way – most of the time my personality could best be described as either very intense or very goofy.
What is the best thing or worst thing about being a pianist?
Music has to be one greatest pleasures in life, so spending the majority of my time immersed in music is fantastic. Being a pianist specifically, there are definitely best and worst aspects. We have an amazing repertoire, endless really. There is so much incredible music already written and constantly being written for the piano, that you could spend several lifetimes and still not even play a fraction of it. On top of all the music specifically written for piano, there is an entire genre of transcriptions for the piano. Almost any orchestral work, opera aria, great melody, or popular song, could be conceived on the piano. Composers like Liszt and Rachmaninoff did this in virtuoso ways, and composers and pianists today continue to have fun changing up the tradition.
As far as a more difficult thing about being a pianist, it can be lonely. Pianists don’t perform and practice with other musicians as much as orchestral players and singers. For me, I would love to have a career that involves both – performing all over the world as a solo pianist, but also having ample opportunities to collaborate with other artists.
Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I love listening to the musical Jekyll and Hyde. I often find myself singing at the top of my lungs in the shower and running around the house screaming the lyrics to Jekyll and Hyde. I also always enjoy watching and studying the famous ping pong player Jan Ove Waldner. The Lord of the Rings has always been my absolute favorite book and movie series, and I think that the musical score is brilliant. Lately I’ve been listening to this score as a nightly routine right before I go to bed. Among classical recordings, I can never ever get enough of Vladimir Horowitz!
What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Invisibility (but only when I choose). I could hear what people are really saying, and it could be advantageous is so many fun ways.
When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favorite thing to do?
I really enjoy playing ping pong and also spending time cooking with my friends, (especially making fresh homemade pasta from scratch). I love taking long walks that are often around 27 miles long. I always look at nature on these walks, which inspires me to come up with new ideas in music. I think that music is all about telling a story and bringing the audience on a journey. Somehow my walks help me to feel and understand that journey. They can always cheer me up when I’m in a bad mood or I don’t feel like practicing on a particular day.
Please talk about some of the joys & challenges in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue
Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is simply a blast to play! There are endless possibilities of different types of sound, rhythmic variations, and voicing. Gershwin’s music always has this wonderful combination of both jazz and classical elements, but still distinctly has its own voice. For me, the fun in playing the Rhapsody in Blue is the absolute joy and love of life that I hear in the music. I also feel that the jazz influences give freedom to add something or improvise here and there.
What is it like sharing the stage with a major star such as Lang Lang?
To be honest sharing the stage with Lang Lang is very easy, because he makes it easy. Lang Lang’s enthusiasm for everything is infectious, and when we are playing together there is so much joy of just making music in the moment. From the first time we ever played a duet (I had just turned 12), I have always felt his overwhelming support and encouragement. For me, Lang Lang is one of the most brilliant and committed musicians out there and I think he has done more for the classical music world than almost anyone. Of course there is always the sense of awe in Lang Lang’s crazy star power (I don’t think there is any other classical musician who can affect young musicians, a roomful of school kids, or popular culture the way Lang Lang can), but when we play together I feel like fundamentally and musically somehow we are in sync.
How do you approach the Gershwin differently, to take the pressure off Lang Lang?
For the Gershwin, essentially I am playing the notes of the left hand using two hands, and Lang Lang is playing the right hand. This gets a bit complicated however, since the Rhapsody in Blue contains numerous hand cross overs (where the left hand crosses over the right hand or vice versa). There will be places in the piece where I end up taking over both hands, Lang Lang takes over the left hand with his right hand, where we are constantly crossing over each other’s hands, and sometime we just add extra notes that aren’t even written. It’s really quite fun! I also feel like it’s something really special on a fundamentally human level. Playing any chamber music together is a very intimate experience, but to play a solo piano concerto with three hands (rather than two) is even more connected!
What is the experience of mentorship like?
I would have to say that the Lang Lang International Music Foundation has ultimately been responsible for the majority of unbelievable opportunities that I have had over the past four years. Through the foundation’s support, I have had the chance to travel all over the world! Almost every time, these first introductions have led to new opportunities or concert invitations. I have also had the chance to spend time with an amazing network of other young musicians through the foundation.
As a personal mentor, Lang Lang is simply the best! Probably the best moments are informal ones, when I play something in a dressing room and Lang Lang offers some invaluable words of wisdom. A very special form of mentorship also happens on stage during rehearsals, where I’m part of the action or just observing as Lang Lang interacts with some of today’s most important orchestras and conductors. This form of mentorship is extremely rare and it’s such an amazing opportunity to learn first-hand from someone who has performed with orchestra thousands of times. Finally, Lang Lang is a mentor in terms of his fantastic view of life and incredible strength of character.
Talk for a moment about what you’re doing to make music accessible to your generation.
I think most classical music is just as moody as the typical teenager. There are calm moments, crazy moments, insanely intense moments, depressing moments, and unbelievably beautiful moments. It’s not hard to understand or appreciate this art form, it’s simply that a lot of young people are never really exposed to this music (or when they were, it was unfortunately a negative experience) so they think they hate it. There is also sometimes a bit of a snob appeal to classical music that turns people off. I think this is such a shame! You don’t have to know anything about classical music to enjoy it. Music in general is probably one of the most powerful ways we can bridge gaps and become closer together as caring human beings. It is language that has no boundaries.
Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
I am always inspired by my teacher at Juilliard, Hung-Kuan Chen. He passionately shares a lifetime of profound wisdom, insight and advice on so many levels. He supports and encourages me to find my own path in this world.
Maxim Lando and Lang Lang team up with Peter Oundjian and the Toronto Symphony , including members of Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra in a March 1st concert featuring Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.