Do or Die: Lang Lang’s Story

Recently, the BBC presented a very interesting documentary delving into the life of the chinese concert pianist Lang Lang. The programme was introduced by Alan Yentob as part of the Imagine series.

For those unaware of Lang Lang’s phenomenal world fame, he is one of the few classical pianists to have achieved ‘superstar’ status, and is particularly popular in China. His celebrity appeal is such that he was chosen to perform in the Queen’s Diamond Jubliee Celebration Concert held outside Buckingham Palace earlier this year alongside pop, rock and other mainstream artists.

Born in Shenyang in China, Lang Lang entered the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music aged just 9 and won first prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in Japan at 13. After studying with Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in the US, his career quickly developed and he has subsequently been in demand all over the world performing at most major venues with renowned orchestras and conductors.

Despite developing a substantial fan base, Lang Lang has many critics; many find his playing distasteful to say the least and there are those who can’t abide his distinctly ‘show biz’ style. However, this documentary painted Lang Lang in a completely different light in my opinion. It revealed a life quite removed from the assumed glamour and jet set lifestyle.

As a young boy growing up in China, life with an  overbearing father proved to be tortuous at times. He was routinely forced to practice and develop a ‘winning’ attitude. This has quite clearly deeply affected the pianist demonstrating the negative impact obsessive parents can have on their offspring.

For me, the most interesting aspect of Lang Lang illustrious career is the dedication and commitment he displays towards music education and piano teaching particularly. He has apparently completely revived interest in classical music in the Far East; there are over 40 million children in China learning the piano today and much of this interest in piano playing and classical music generally is attributed to Lang Lang’s success. He has just opened his own piano school and was filmed selecting suitable piano teachers.

It was quite clear that he relished giving masterclasses and lessons to the youngsters too. Many pianists of this stature would never even consider spending so much time and effort encouraging young players. He is evidently quite driven in his quest to help as many children as possible to play the piano and develop a love for classical music – and for that he surely deserves an accolade?


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. sarah says:

    Hi Melanie. In July this year I saw him play at the Latitude Festival in Suffolk. Later on, when I was not around, my husband and daughter saw him being filmed for a documentary by a film crew. My husband asked if my daughter could have her photo taken with him. He insisted that my husband join the photo and made one of the crew take it. My husband said he was absolutely charming. Have also been watching the ‘Leeds Competition’ for which he is ambassador and I agree that he appears to be so enthusiastic in promoting music and the piano. I think he’s great!

    1. Hi Sarah, Great to hear your story. He certainly has done much to promote music especially amongest youngsters which can only be a good thing in my opinion. Let’s hope he keeps up this enthusiasm 🙂

  2. Can't Play Won't Play says:

    I watched the Imagine documentary and really enjoyed it. For somebody such as LL to get told by a piano teacher ‘go back to your second-class city’, ‘you have a head like a potato’ and ‘don’t play piano, do something else’ really struck a chord with me (please excuse the pun).

    1. edna says:

      This is so ridiculous, you don’t know nothing about him, Lang Lang is the best one and as the article says is the only one who takes his precious time to encourage children to learn classical music.He’s really the number one!!

  3. Kenny Davies says:

    Does anyone know the title of the last song( from 01.20.01) he played in this documentary?


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