Pianist Holds Concert To Benefit Next Generation Of Talent
Three years ago, 9-year-old Johnson Zhongxin Li was playing the piano in a mall in China and caught the attention of internationally acclaimed Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
“It was a UNICEF event and we were trying to raise some money for children in China and [Li is] there already playing for the kids,” Lang Lang said during a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York on Monday night. “I thought, ‘Wow! This guy’s good!'”
The Lang Lang International Music Foundation awarded Li a scholarship in 2011, and he has since performed with Lang Lang on many occasions, including the 25th anniversary concert for UNICEF in Hong Kong in 2011.
On Monday, Li was one of six young musicians from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, and the US, that performed at the “Lang Lang and Friends in Concert” to benefit the pianist’s foundation.
“One of the main things Lang Lang’s foundation does is seek out and support uncommonly gifted young piano players all around the world,” said the gala’s host, Emmy Award-winning entertainer Alec Baldwin.
The foundation’s mission is to educate and inspire the next generation of classical music lovers and performers by cultivating the world’s most promising young pianists, providing music education and building a young audience through live music experiences.
Three of the young performers – Derek Wang, 14, and Anna Larsen, 12, both of Boston, and Charlie Liu, 11 of New Jersey – have been with the foundation since its inception in 2008 after Lang Lang “met” them all on YouTube.
In addition to Shenzhen resident Li, Monday’s concert marked the first time on Carnegie Hall’s stage for Hong Kong residents Kate Xintong Lee and Jonathan Jun Yang. For Wang, Liu and Larsen, it was their third time performing at the concert hall.
“When [Lang Lang] created his foundation, he did not just lend his name,” Sanford “Sandy” Weill, the philanthropist and former chief executive and chairman of Citigroup, for whom Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie is named, said in opening remarks.
“What he really did was give his passion, his intellect, his time, even his money, to get this thing going.”
The inaugural benefit concert, which included a post-gala benefit dinner, also featured Lang Lang in duets with Danish singer-songwriter Oh Lang and Grammy-Award-winners violinist Joshua Bell, soprano Rene Fleming and recording artist John Legend.
“The lineup that Lang Lang’s foundation has assembled for tonight really is an embarrassment of riches,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote in a letter, which Weill read to the audience. “That there is this much talent onstage playing for a packed house is a testament to our belief in the power of music to thrill and inspire.”
Lang Lang’s foundation seeks to make classical music relevant to today’s youth, connect young talents and create a music network that crosses cultural boundaries, and utilize technology to make music accessible and develop innovative ways to teach music.
The “Young Scholars Program” is the foundation’s longest running program in which Lang Lang personally selects young talents to offer them mentorship, tutelage and unique performance opportunities.
The “101 Pianists” program brings together 100 young pianists who collaborate with one another, partake in a master class and perform with Lang Lang in a public concert.
This fall, the foundation will launch the inaugural Junior Music Camp in Munich, Germany, where up to 12 children ages 8 to 12 will participate in workshops, master classes and concerts.
The foundation also works in high schools to encourage young people to better understand and appreciate music.
During Monday’s performance, members of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City sat as featured guests in two rows onstage to watch the concert and participate in the finale performance of “Climb Every Mountain” from the movie The Sound of Music.
“I think that very few people really do things like Lang Lang,” said Weill, who has been friends with the Shenyang, China native for 13 years and has supported the pianist’s foundation since the beginning. “In the last five years, this foundation has grown to do a lot of incredible things for young people.”