To mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and Austria, the mdw joined forces with the Wiener Konzerthaus and the Lang Lang Foundation to offer a public master class with piano superstar Lang Lang. 6 November saw three handpicked mdw students enjoy the one-of-a-kind opportunity to be taught by Lang Lang in the Mozart Hall at the Wiener Konzerthaus on 6 November. This unique occurrence was also experienced by a live audience in the hall as well as by those watching the live stream. The next highlight of these jubilee celebrations followed one day later: the Konzerthaus’s Great Hall witnessed a concert by the Webern Symphonie Orchester under the baton of Philippe Jordan with Lang Lang as soloist. The original idea for this project had been for the orchestra to consist half of mdw students and half of students from the Central Conservatory of Music (CCOM), the mdw’s partner institution in Beijing, thereby symbolising a visible and audible bridge between China and Austria. The pandemic with its associated travel restrictions, however, made it impossible for the latter group of students to travel here from China, for which reason the orchestra consisted entirely of students from the mdw.
A star like Lang Lang, who consistently seeks to facilitate cultural communication between East and West in his work, embodies the notion of a bridge between China and Austria in an ideal way. His impact also extends far beyond his activities as a concert artist, such as in the efforts pursued by his foundation in the interest of nurturing young musical talents. It was at age five that Lang Lang first performed before an audience and won the Shenyang Piano Competition. He went on to study with Gary Graffman at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and this worldwide star’s impressive career has since been documented by numerous concerts, recordings, and awards.
The first student to take the stage at the Mozart Hall was Slovak-Australian pianist Ryan Martin Bradshaw, who began playing piano at age seven and had already given his first performance with an orchestra by age eight. He’s been studying with Vladimir Kharin in the mdw’s Programme for Gifted Children since 2016. “Lang Lang is one of my role models and one of my favourite pianists—not just because of his musical abilities, but also because he helps young pianists grow as musicians,” says Bradshaw. For the public master class, Bradshaw selected Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. Trois poèmes pour piano d’après Aloysius Bertrand (1908), No. 3. “Scarbo (The Mischievous Goblin)”. “I started playing this piece in 2021, and I’ve since performed it in various concerts. I like Ravel and especially this particular piece of music, because it’s fantastical and full of contrasts, even a bit diabolical,” says the young pianist on his choice of music. “It was a terrific experience being onstage with Lang Lang, and it was my first time ever playing in the Mozart Hall. Lang Lang gave me lots of good ideas; he was very imaginative,” comments Ryan Martin Bradshaw as he looks back on this master class.
The second young artist to be taught by Lang Lang was Mitra Kotte, born in Vienna in 1995. She’s been studying piano at the mdw with Martin Hughes since 2012, and she added chamber music with Stefan Mendl in 2021. Kotte is already pursuing an active domestic and international concert career and is an artist of the young talents series “Start up!” organised by Jeunesse. “I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to experience this masterclass; it felt wonderful playing for an audience on this beautiful piano and being taught by a superstar,” she says. “It’s worth a whole lot to receive feedback on how you’re playing and what you should be working on from someone who knows so much about both music and living life as a pianist. You get to hear an objective opinion, and that’s priceless,” adds Kotte, underlining what this master class did for her. Mira Kotte played Robert Schumann’s ABEGG Variations for Piano, op. 1 (1830). “Back when I started practicing this piece a couple years ago, I hit upon a recording of it on YouTube by Lang Lang that had me instantly captivated. So when the opportunity rolled around to do this master class, I couldn’t help but prepare precisely this piece,” Kotte explains. “I admire Lang Lang not just for what he can do on the piano but also for the consistency with which he’s managed to live up to the status he’s attained for himself.”
In the performance by the third student, Dimitrii Kalashnikov, Lang Lang had difficulty finding anything that he thought could be improved. Kalashnikov, born in Moscow in 1994, completed a course of training at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory followed by studies at the Royal College of Music in London and has been studying at the mdw with Anna Malikova since September 2021. “It was an unusual master class for me, and in any case an important encounter with an artist of such fame. It’s also a huge joy to once again be able to play for an audience, which gives me a tonne of energy,” says a happy Dimitrii Kalashnikov. “Lang Lang is a special pianist, and there are lots of recordings by him that I listen to quite frequently in order to improve my own playing,” the young artist remarks. For this master class, he selected five movements from The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. “I wanted to find out what suggestions Lang Lang would give me on it and experience his perspective on Russian music, in particular Tchaikovsky. I was surprised by how he hardly corrected me at all—but he did provide me with inspiration for my playing in the future.”
A relaxed Lang Lang who took time to spontaneously answer questions from the audience once he’d finished teaching, three outstanding students, and an audience spellbound by the special atmosphere of a public master class made for an evening that was an uplifting experience for all those involved.
The entire master class is available at: mediathek.mdw.ac.at/masterclass-langlang
A short documentary that includes an interview with Lang Lang as well as the three participating students: