Pianist Lang Lang expresses ‘worry’ over U.S.-China relations; plans virtual concert to try and help

The globally-acclaimed pianist Lang Lang has told CNBC that he’s very worried about the current relationship between China and the U.S., and is planning a virtual concert in December to try and help bring the countries together.

“I really worry about the U.S.-China relationship. I really hope that … they will go back to the normal speech and the normal way of communication. I really worry about the current situation,” he said. 

Lang, who was born in Shenyang, China, was speaking to CNBC from Bejing about the release of his new album, a recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” considered to be one of the most challenging pieces ever written for the piano. He recorded both a live and studio version of the piece in Germany just before the global lockdown. 

His comments come as he plans a virtual concert which will include input from U.S. schools that he is working with as part of The Lang Lang International Music Foundation. He started the foundation in 2008 to champion music education and inspire the next generation of musicians. 

Lang, who is also a United Nations Messenger of Peace, added that he hopes music can play an important part in getting China and the U.S. back as “good friends” soon. 

He has recently returned to Beijing after spending five months in Shanghai during the pandemic crisis, and said life is gradually getting back to normal in China. Concert halls and movie theaters are now open to 50% capacity, and schools are re-opening for the Fall semester. 

“It certainly is much more hopeful than three months ago,” he said. 

“And I see from here to the main road in Beijing is very crowded … So that’s a good sign I would say. Normally I hate traffic, but in this case, I take (it) as a good thing.” 

Lang, who plans to return to live performance with an audience in some capacity in the Fall, said he hopes his Bach recordings provides comfort to people during the global pandemic crisis. 

“Despite the difficult time, we have to make sure life needs to go on, and music is a great way to approach building a bridge to people and to feel more comfortable, to feel more secure and to feel more healed,” he said. 

Music industry impact

The celebrated musician also spoke of his sadness about the impact the coronavirus crisis on the classical music industry. He cited the recent closure of Columbia Artists, a leading agency that had represented some of the world’s biggest classical artists over its 90-year history, which announced it was closing down at the end of August. 

“This is very sad for us … there are many great musicians who cannot perform and then, because of that, the big organizations are falling apart,” he said. 

Lang said the pandemic had created the biggest challenge classical music has faced in the last 50 years. 

“I really hope we will have the vaccine very soon, then we can all take a shot and then we can go back to perform … because worldwide this impact is like nothing before,” he said. 

Speaking to CNBC in April from Shanghai, Lang had said his philanthropic foundation was also facing financial challenges; now he said he is very grateful for the continuing support it has since received. 

“We’re not doing great, but we’re trying to move our offices to much cheaper places and also our supporters are still making donations … in this difficult time they still support us,” he said. 

“We will not give up. I know it’s a hard year, but we will keep spending budget to give to the schools or to the individual students to give them more hope to study music.”

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