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Classical music

Want to emulate Lang Lang? Hong Kong pianists will need perfect playing skills but also luck, Berlin Phil media chief says

Ahead of concert in city on Friday, orchestra media chairman explains how they decided on Korean pianist Cho Seong-jin to replace injured Chinese maestro

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 November, 2017, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 November, 2017, 10:49pm

Hong Kong pianists will need to play perfectly but also score a bit of luck if they want to follow in Lang Lang’s footsteps as a soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, its leader has advised.

Olaf Maninger, media chairman of the orchestra, said the cancellation of Lang’s appearance at a Friday concert in Hong Kong due to his slow recovery from an arm injury had been “bad luck” for all involved.

“We were surprised by his withdrawal but we knew a little bit about his injury in advance. He had wanted the concert with us to be his first project on his return,” Maninger, a cellist with the Berlin Phil since 1995, said.

Asked what it would take for local pianists to play with the orchestra, he said: “It would need a little bit of luck, and playing perfectly of course – it’s the same with everyone.

“One has to be in the right place at the right time, and that’s not easy because you can’t do anything about that.”

But that seems to be the case for Cho Seong-jin, the Korean pianist who will replace Lang at Friday’s Berlin Phil concert at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

Cho, winner of the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, said his last-minute invitation to perform was a dream come true.

“During the rehearsals with the Berlin Phil, I asked myself, am I watching a DVD?” Cho said.

Will Chinese star pianist Lang Lang have to call it quits because of arm injury?

According to a source, more than 100 tickets were returned to the organiser after Lang’s withdrawal, but all were quickly resold.

Simon Rattle, chief conductor of the Berlin Phil since 2002, said Lang’s left hand problems with tendinitis were the result of practising Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand “too hard”.

“Lang rang me and said: ‘I can now play all the Mozart piano concertos but only with the right hand, and no one seems willing to pay for only half of me,’” the Briton said on Thursday.

He called the 35-year-old Lang “a wonderfully optimistic musician” and said he should recover faster than others with the same problem. But if Lang tried to play with the injury, “he could damage himself permanently, and I think that’s desperately worrying for him”.

Elaine Yeung, assistant director of the Hong Kong government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, said the two concerts it was presenting in the city were a “major celebration programme” for the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule.

Meanwhile the orchestra chair said the absence of Lang, a permanent Hong Kong resident, would not make the affair any less special.

“Being here and playing for the audience is very special, especially when it happens only once every 12 years, so it seems,” Maninger said, referring to the Berlin Phil’s Hong Kong debut in 2005.