101 Pianists with Lang Lang

On September 18 one hundred piano students from the Ottawa area took part in a very special masterclass at the National Arts Centre. This event was sponsored by the Lang Lang Foundation. Lang Lang began “101 Pianists” in China over a decade ago and it has been held in dozens of cities, such as London, Paris, Hong Kong, Berlin, Rome, and Vancouver.

The students, ages 6 to 18, were recruited from various sources across Ottawa, including ORMTA, the University of Ottawa, and the Conservatoire de Quebec.  Students from Mack Piano Studio included: Christina, Angelina, Sam, Emily, Anika-France, and Cici. The students were asked to prepare two pieces: Schubert’s Marches Militaires, op. 51, no.1, and Hungarian Rhapsody no. 5 by Brahms. The pieces had been arranged to suit the different age levels.

Students gathered at the NAC early that morning for a rehearsal with conductor Alexander Shelley. He obviously enjoyed working with young people. Much emphasis was put on ensemble skills and dynamics. Watching a conductor was a new experience for many of the children and took some getting used to! For the many tempo changes in the Brahms, Maestro Shelley had the students sing their parts with wonderful results. The energy level on stage was certainly very high but Alexander Shelley kept the rehearsal fun and never once showed any impatience with the young performers. Bravo Maestro!!

Lunch and games outside on the NAC patios were a welcome break for the students. It was very nice to see them having fun in the beautiful sunshine,
dressed in their black and white clothes with no hint of pre-concert jitters. When the time came to line up and take their places onstage, everyone cooperated in a most professional manner.

Finally seated onstage in pairs at 50 Roland keyboards under the bright NAC lights, the students waited for Lang Lang with their proud parents and teachers looking on from the audience. The long anticipated moment finally arrived. Lang Lang bounded onto the stage with Maestro Shelley close behind. After much applause and a few speeches, Schubert’s Marche Militaire took off at an alarming speed. In his usual humorous manner, Lang Lang asked the students,”What’s the hurry? Have you got somewhere more important to go?” The second time through was considerably calmer.

Lang Lang spoke about his musical influences growing up in China. He is a big fan of cartoons, especially “Tom and Jerry.” The audience and students were then treated to a showing of Lang Lang’s favourite episode of “Tom and Jerry” with the cat and mouse dressed in tuxedos battling over control of a concert grand piano. The performers on stage enjoyed this immensely.

Then it was time for the next piece: Brahm’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 3.  Oh, those tricky tempo changes!! Would the students all remember to look up from their scores? Would the conductor capture their youthful attention? Despite the rehearsal, there were more than a few accidental “solos”. After two tries at the Brahm’s, Lang Lang took charge with his microphone. The pause finally worked with Lang Lang yelling” STOP” in a booming voice. Success at last!!!

To finish the afternoon, the students were asked which piece they would like to perform one more time. The vote went to Schubert and we were treated to the final and best performance of the day. The students were then led off to a Meet-and-Greet with Lang Lang where they also received gift bags with souvenirs of their special day at the National Arts Centre. Everyone left with big smiles and a new appreciation for the hard work that goes into an orchestral concert.

Comments from students:

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that I will never forget.”

“I learned when Lang Lang yells into a microphone, listen to him!”

“It was a very interesting event for both younger and older kids. We all learned something new and had lots of fun. It was an amazing Friday that we will never forget.”

“I liked the presents at the end.”

“It was a lot of fun. Wow!! I was lucky to be performing onstage at the National Arts Centre.”

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