Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Lang Lang's Mozart - Masterclass: Comedy, Character, and Storytelling

Pianist Noriko Ogawa says Mozart is difficult to pull off as his music "shows off every part and potential of you as a musician, your potential as a musician, how to turn trills, how soft and loud, every little thing has to be decided by the performer, that's why all musicians say Mozart is the most difficult composer to play as a performer*"

 So let's take a successful creative concert pianist, such as Lang Lang, and examine
his approach to Mozart. We'll do this by observing Lang Lang in action in a piano masterclass which took place in New Jersey in c2009 and  discover his musical thinking.  I summarise Lang Lang's main points from his masterclass videos below with clarification and elaboration.

The 'sound' of Mozart Lang Lang agrees that Mozart's music  is hard to play, especially to get the 'sound' of Mozart. What Lang Lang means is that you must have the character of Mozart's music when you play. How do we get this character, according to Lang Lang, "Mozart always goes up" with his phrases (in other words, your fingers become lighter and uplifting towards the end of a phrase), getting softer as you rise up the keyboard. Put simply, the end of the phrase is lighter. An important element is to note the music's cheerful character within the context of this piece.

Musical Storytelling
Lang Lang really brings music to life, through imaginative musical storytelling, He encourages the participants to create a story to suit the musical passage, he explains to his amused audience: "I'm lost, where I am?" "I'm in New Jersey, No wait, I'm in New York" and so forth.  By using musical imagination, one can spot certain motifs in Mozart's music and align them to emotional colours, and Lang Lang uses an example of a 'hope motif'. There are also unexpected surprises in Mozart's music, recognise those instances and convey that feeling.


Mozart's a lightweight?  
Ornaments, highly prevalent in baroque and classical music, here Lang Lang reminds the young pianist,
to play ornaments lightly, not so heavily in the fingers. 

Sing a Song
As we all know, Mozart wrote some great Operas, and the singing voice, is probably paramount in his composition, so therefore Lang Lang, utters the words, sing.  

Split Personality - a Comical Genius
Sing in combination with the character contrasts of a particular passage which alternates between seriousness and light heartedness, encourages Lang Lang, further adding that Mozart is ' a little bit crazy, that's why he's a genius' but not only that, a 'funny guy.' Now, Lang Lang really shows he shares Mozart's comic jest (cheek) by giving some ideas for a particular passage: perhaps Mozart is Crying, maybe he's begging for Ice cream, Vanilla, no, chocolate, No [perhaps] I don't want this [ice cream anymore].  Lang Lang brings the participant's attention to the effect Mozart conveys by alternating in rapid succession between Major Minor, Major Minor modes, perhaps, in essence playing a game.

So to conclude, let's hear Lang Lang perform Mozart's Sonata in B flat Major, K.333, 3rd Movement. Certainly from Lang Lang's facial expressions, he's definitely 'in character' with Mozart.
*Noriko Ogawa quote from Saturday Classics, BBC Radio 3, 07 April 2012