Lang Lang played in Ann Arbor last night for the University Music Society, appearing with the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach.
From the moment Lang Lang walked on stage, it was clear that the audience was full of his fans and that a rock star had come into the room. There’s no doubt he is a master technician, with a combination of keyboard showmanship and a liquid legato that is very captivating. He plays in almost a ‘new age” piano style, full of shimmer and light. At the end of the night, however, I was left wondering if that was the right approach for the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3, which has some very dark passages indeed.
At the same time, the orchestra was breathtakingly good. The 100-member orchestra is made up of young musicians from all over the world, under the age of 26, who are invited to attend a kind of “finishing school” for orchestra musicians at a German castle. There, the orchestra rehearses twice daily, in addition to sectionals and private instruction. The result was a precision in playing and a command of dynamics that professional orchestras can be hard-pressed to deliver.
It’s worth noting that the orchestra used a configuration on frequently seen in the United States. The first violins were in their accustomed position to the left of the conductor, with the cello’s behind and the basses to the rear, on the left side of the stage just in front of the percussion. The right side of the stage had the second violins out front, with a strong viola section behind. The result was a stronger emphasis on the bass and tenor voices – giving the orchestra a firm foundation.
In all, a strong night at Hill Auditorium.