The great piano virtuoso Lang Lang came to Roy Thomson Hall tonight to play with the Toronto Symphony. Because he’s suffering from tendinitis the program was changed to include his young protégé. Lang Lang & Maxim Lando played a series of pieces together, sometimes one on each “hand” of a two-handed piece, sometimes bringing more. It was a night to celebrate many kinds of mentorship.
Peter Oundjian, whom I’ve watched gently guiding the young talent of the TSO, and artists such as Jan Lisiecki, stood onstage reminiscing with Lang Lang, who first appeared alongside Oundjian twenty years ago at the age of fifteen years old. Now they both stood with Lando, who is himself fifteen, as we come to the twilight of Oundjian’s time with the TSO.
And to begin the concert we watched the combined forces of the TSO and Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra (comprised of members between the ages of 12 and 25), over 130 players to undertake Paul Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice all under Oundjian’s baton.
In a hall jammed full of loving support it was a celebration of education & mentorship, a night to be remembered & cherished.
In the middle of the program was a bold performance of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé suite No 2 from the TSO, the orchestra now more normal sized. Oundjian seemed to have a great time, as the orchestra responded to his leadership.
After the interval we shifted gears for something quite different. After a bit of talk, Lang Lang & Lando sat at the keyboard for a pair of pieces without any orchestral support.
First came a very delicate reading of Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” from the Carnival of the Animals, Lando seated towards the bass end, Lang Lang taking the treble. His right hand seemed to be fine, while he sometimes gestured with his left, partly to conduct his partner, partly because he’s a flamboyant creature.
Next came a wonderfully jagged performance of “America”, meaning the song from West Side Story, likely in homage to Leonard Bernstein’s hundredth birthday. In this energetic piece I wasn’t thinking about anything resembling an injury, although I couldn’t see how much Lang Lang was able to play. At times they would suddenly become super soft in their volume, always wonderfully well co-ordinated.
For a piece I’ve heard as many times as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, this was an eye-opener. In the recent interview with Lando I linked to his highly original reading of the piece. But this version was a quantum leap beyond that.
In places Lang Lang improvised, ornamenting extra notes that were entirely welcome in this funny hybrid piece that is a bit of jazz fused with something symphonic. While it’s unlike any version I’ve ever heard, I think Gershwin would love what they did, at times crossing over one another, a technical tour de force. Sometimes we heard playing of restraint & wonderful elegance, sometimes big full sounds and everything in between.
And for their encore we got a flashy Sugar Plum Fairy, Tchaikowsky for one piano (mostly) two handed but occasionally embellished beyond that.