Hotchkiss had a rare opportunity Sunday, Sept. 26, to be part of classical music history when the world-renowned concert pianist Lang Lang performed exclusively for the School community in Elfers Hall. The event marked the first time this rock star pianist has performed in a secondary school –– anywhere. (View a gallery of images here. Watch a replay of the performance below.)
The unprecedented visit, which was the result of an invitation from Oliver Chen '22, a longtime student of Lang Lang’s, aligned with the musician’s passion for sparking interest in classical music among students. He traveled to Hotchkiss from New York City, where the previous day he headlined the Global Citizen Live event in Central Park.
Heralded as one of the greatest pianists in the world, Lang Lang, now 39, was just 17 when he became an overnight sensation after performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Since then, the musician, known for his hair-tossing, flamboyant performances, has sold-out concert halls around the world. Appearing on talk shows and on stage with leading entertainers, he has elevated the popularity of classical music with today’s audiences. Beyond his success, he is dedicated to giving back through his nonprofit, The Lang Lang International Music Foundation, which supports music education and the power of music to communicate, heal, and unite.
“He’s my lighthouse, my mentor,” said Chen as he welcomed Lang Lang to the stage. Chen began studying with Lang Lang at the age of seven and has performed with him numerous times.
Lang Lang’s visit was an opportunity for the School to engage students with a performance by superlative musicians while also celebrating a return to live music performances.
In introducing the event, Fabio Witkowski, head of the visual and performing arts department, remarked that “after what has been one of the most challenging years of our lives, during which Elfers Hall remained mostly empty and silent, it is truly magnificent to be here, together again, ready to be touched and inspired by Lang Lang.”
Prior to performing, the musician gave a master class on stage in front of a live audience to Kenny Zhang ’22, who played Chopin’s Scherzo No. 3, and Ricky Shi ’23, who played Rachmanoff’s Moment Musicaux No.4.
“It felt like a bomb was being made and about to explode,” said Shi, describing how nervous he felt when he played in front of Lang Lang.
Lang Lang, who is known for his passionate performances of composers including Sergei Rachmaninoff, encouraged Shi to play more forcefully by pressing down on his shoulders.
“You have to become like a monster; you have to blow everyone’s mind,” Lang Lang told him.
Lang Lang then brought his own vibrant, sensitive, and often poetic playing to the stage when he performed a selection from the Goldberg Variations by J. S. Bach and Liebestraum No. 3 by Franz Liszt.
Not surprisingly, his performance brought thunderous applause and standing ovations; so too, did his piano four-hands piece with Chen. The two played the Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Johannes Brahms. Lang Lang continued a piano four-hands with Fabio Witkowski playing Radetzky March by Johann Strauss, which brought an energetic, exciting finale to the performance.
After the concert, Instructor in Piano Gisele Witkowski noted Lang Lang's universal ability to inspire.
“Lang Lang’s performance level was so top notch, but at the same time, he communicated with the students so well and so warmly. He brought everyone into the same wavelength –– and that is really remarkable.”
Watch Lang Lang performance
Watch Lang Lang master class