Pianist Lang Lang returns to La. with BRSO concert

You saw him take the stage and trade licks with Metallica during the 56th Grammy awards, and now you can seem him in person when Lang Lang performs Feb. 22 with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra.

The 33-year-old Lang Lang, with his pop star looks, creates a buzz wherever he plays. And this time he’ll be the guest artist in the orchestra’s Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation Great Performers in Concert Series.

This will be a return visit to Louisiana for the pianist, and he’s looking forward to coming back.

“It was a wonderful experience,” he says of his previous visit in an email. “I will play Strauss’ ‘Burlesque’ and the Ravel ‘Piano Concerto in G major’ this time.”

For those unfamiliar with the pianist, here’s a few facts:

■ He was born on June 14, 1982, in Shenyang, Liaoning, China.

■ He became hooked on western classical music at age 2 while watching the “Tom and Jerry” cartoon, “The Cat Concerto,” which features Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.”

■ He began taking piano lessons at age 3.

■ He won first place at the Shenyang Piano Competition and performed his first public recital at age 5.

■ Steinway Pianos, for the first time in its 150-year history, named a piano model after a single artist when they introduced “The Lang Lang Piano” to China.

■ His career has since taken him throughout the world, performing at such events at the 2007 Nobel Prize concert in Stockholm, the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, collaborating with Herbie Hancock at the 50th annual Grammy Awards in 2008, a 2009 Carnegie Hall performance, a 2011 state dinner at the White House and the 2012 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert in Buckingham Palace.

And, of course, the recent collaboration with Metallica on the group’s 1088 anti-war classic, “One,” where Lang Lang played against a backdrop of shooting flames.

“It was so amazing and exciting,” he says. “The first time they put on fire during rehearsal, I was scared. During the show, the flames at the beginning set the spirit right away.”

As for his collaboration with Metallica, Lang Lang says “Crossover collaboration is a completely different experience (than playing classical music). I enjoy both.”

Just watching Lang Lang at the piano is enough to know that he enjoys performing. The New York Times described him as the “hottest artist on the classical music planet.”

Lang Lang doesn’t just play the piano, he celebrates it. The keyboard seems to come alive beneath his fingertips.

What’s even more interesting is Lang Lang’s life behind the scenes. Remember that old “Tom and Jerry” cartoon. Lang Lang was only a child when the music inspired him. Now it’s his mission to inspire children throughout the world, to introduce them to the world of classical music and its possibilities.

His biography calls this his second career, “bringing music into the lives of children around the world, both through his work for charities such as UNICEF and through his own Lang Lang International Music Foundation.”

“Playing concerts is a direct way,” Lang Lang says of his work of introducing music into children’s lives. “I also give master classes throughout the world.”

Some 40 million children in Lang Lang’s native China have cited Lang Lang as their inspiration to learn piano.

“I am happy with that and glad to see more children start piano playing,” Lang Lang says. “I also hope I get them to enjoy life by music making.”

And though he’s performed with top orchestras and music stars in other genres, Lang Lang would like the opportunity to perform with some of the younger set he’s inspired.

“I would like to play some concerts with young orchestras,” he says.

But future performances with music stars in other genres still present exciting possibilities.

“I always want to try crossover collaborations,” he says.

For now, Lang Lang’s main priority is working on his repertoires for next season, but he doesn’t rule taking a break to watch “Tom and Jerry.”

“Yes, I’m still a fan,” he says. “It brings me childhood memories.”