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Where the magic began

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2022-09-21 07:57

The celebrated pianist has released his album, The Disney Book, inviting fans of all ages to enjoy his interpretations of classical music from the movies.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Leading music arrangers also joined in the project, such as Stephen Hough, Natalie Tenenbaum and Randy Kerber.

"I started working on this project in Shanghai at the end of 2019 and then I launched my global tour with my Goldberg Variations album. I recorded the Disney album in different cities on my global tour, such as New York, London and Paris," says Lang. "It's a project that gathers international artists, which was particularly difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

The pianist had a clear vision for the album. While maintaining the essence of the melodies, the imaginative and sophisticated arrangements, whether for solo piano or for piano and a full orchestra (the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played with Lang on the album under the baton of conductor Robert Ziegler), should conjure the soundscapes of great composers like Achille-Claude Debussy and Frederic Chopin, as well as the virtuosity of Liszt and Vladimir Horowitz.

"It's not an album you listen to as background music, like in the elevator. It's an album showcasing the beauty and color of classical music through the interpretation of popular musical works from Disney movies," the pianist says.

"I was delighted to be asked to arrange some Disney songs for him (Lang Lang). I loved the challenge of transforming these popular songs, beloved by generations of children and adults, into solo piano pieces, rooted in the classical tradition of the great transcribers of the past," says Hough, pianist and composer, and also a member of the faculty at The Juilliard School. He was responsible for the new arrangement of Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins, alongside new versions of The Bare Necessities from The Jungle Book and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Frozen.

When Lang was 13 years old, he visited Tokyo Disneyland after he won the first prize at the Tchaikovsky International Young Musicians Competition held in Tokyo in 1995.

"The first song I heard was from It's a Small World. It's a melody that stayed with me for a long time afterward," recalls Lang, who used the song as the opening piece for the new album. When he recorded the song, the pianist learned about its history.

As part of a huge hit attraction-a boat cruise-the song It's a Small World was created for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, which was personally overseen by Walt Disney in support of the United Nations Children's Fund. Disney asked the Academy Award-winning brothers, Richard and Robert Sherman, to create a single song for the attraction that could be sung by Audio-Animatronics figures in multiple languages.

"The message of the song is still important today, which is about people from different cultures and backgrounds living on the same planet. Just like music itself, it's universal," the pianist says.

Lang's connection with Disney has continued into adulthood and, in 2016, he played the song, Let It Go, from Frozen, at the opening of Shanghai Disney Resort.

Now, he has a new reason to watch Disney animations: his son, who was born last year.

"He particularly loves listening to songs from those films and one of his favorites is Three Little Pigs," says Lang. "This is the first album that I released after becoming a father and it's a gift for my son, as well as for people of different generations everywhere."

The pianist also reveals that he is working on his next album, which will feature Piano Concerto No 2 in G Minor, Op 22 by French composer Camille Saint-Saens.

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