Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 4:44 am | Fair 42º


Lang Lang Performance Nothing Short of Powerful

The pianist handles the mighty works of Beethoven with confidence and grace during an appearance with the Santa Barbara Symphony

The fiery young Chinese pianist Lang Lang brought a rare level of artistry to the Granada Theater on Saturday evening in a performance with Maestro Nir Kabaretti and the Santa Barbara Symphony.

The 27-year-old, who has a reputation for sometimes eccentric stage behavior, was in full command of his powers at this performance. He played Ludwig van Beethoven’s Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat Major, Opus 19 and Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Opus 37, both from memory.

Kabaretti was in sync with Lang Lang during both mighty works, and the symphony was in fine form as well. The full-house audience was enthralled throughout.

According to the program notes, Lang Lang began piano lessons at age 3 and had given his first public performance by the time he was 5, as well as winning the Shenyang competition in China. He is slight, with a shock of blue-black hair, and on this occasion approached the piano each time with considerable self-assurance.

And rightly he should have. Clearly, his life is devoted to his music, and it was apparent in every nuance of both concerti. He wasn’t the only wunderkind on stage; Beethoven wrote the Concerto No. 2 when he was 22 years old and wowed his Viennese audience with it, just as Lang Lang did on this occasion. Lang Lang was fiery in the first movement, allegro con brio, lyrical in the second, adagio, and commanding in the concluding movement, rondo molto allegro.

After intermission, he performed the Concerto No. 3 with, if anything, even more sensitivity. The work premiered in Vienna in 1803, 11 years after the Concerto No. 2. It is difficult to quantify such a composer as Beethoven. On Olympus, they’re all gods, and those who hear the music can only wonder at the loftiness of it all. Contemporary accounts put Beethoven at an extraordinary level as a performer, as well as composer. Lang Lang fit right in with this company.

The delighted audience called him back several times, and he performed an encore: Frederic Chopin’s Etude in A-Flat Major, the “Harp Etude.” Here, again, he played from memory, and exquisitely.

The evening began with a performance by the orchestra of Beethoven’s Overture to Coriolan, Opus 62, composed in 1807. It’s one of those “classical” themes beloved by masters, including William Shakespeare and, before him, Plutarch. The theme is tragic, and Beethoven’s music is wonderful.

John Robinson, executive director of the symphony, noted in the program that Lang Lang “specifically sought out the Santa Barbara Symphony for this special performance.” The theme of the program was “Beethoven: To Life!” and the audience went home in what was clearly an exalted state of mind. Beethoven — and Lang Lang — will do that to dedicated listeners.

The orchestra’s regular season will begin Oct. 17-18 with a program including William Schuman’s American Festival Overture, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Opus 65. Violinist Augustin Hadelich will be the soloist, and the venue again will be the newly restored Granada, now the permanent home of the community’s major arts organizations.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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