On the occasion of Carnegie Hall’s “Ancient Paths – Modern Voices” festival which celebrates Chinese art and artists, Shanghai Tang recently gave a cocktail reception honoring Lang Lang at its luxurious Madison Avenue boutique.
Carnegie Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director, Sir Clive Gillinson, used the event to focus on Lang Lang’s extraordinary career, and to draw attention to the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, which supports young Chinese musical talent.
Lang Lang himself made sure Sir Clive didn’t miss out on being presented with one of the blue silk scarves especially designed for the festival. Featuring a pattern of golden pianos, the scarf can also be purchased at Carnegie Hall’s gift shop – an example of classical music and clever marketing going hand in hand. The proceeds will benefit the Lang Lang Foundation.
The lavish “Ancient Paths – Modern Voices” festival gives New Yorkers an unprecedented opportunity to familiarize themselves with Chinese culture. It impresses by its range of events, as well as the variety of its New York City locations.
The guests of honor, including former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and Chinese ambassador Zhou Wanzhong, point to the political significance of the festival, which goes way beyond a celebration of culture.
Besides artists like Yo-Yo Ma and Yundi Li, Mr. Lang is one of the superstars of the festival.
To better understand the phenomenon of his success one might want to read his autobiography, Journey of a Thousand Miles. Lang Lang’s long journey begins with the ramifications of the Cultural Revolution in China. Unable to realize their own artistic potential, some Chinese parents did their utmost to offer their children the possibilities they themselves were denied. Mr. Lang’s vivid account of his path to Western-style superstardom recalls his family's enormous efforts and personal sacrifices.
Meanwhile, his example does not only serve as an inspiration to thousands of young Chinese, it has also changed the very image of classical music in the West.
It is thanks to Lang Lang that young musicians who want to gain the respect of the professional world no longer have to conform to a "subdued" persona. It is now acceptable for a serious classical artist to be flamboyant and to even present a "cool" identity.
And it is no longer a contradiction that a relatively young artist not only shines through his artistic achievements and personal integrity but also profits financially from his rise to world stardom. We have finally stepped away from the romantic notion of the poor and suffering artist. The audience embraces success, and the "new classical artist" endorsing high-end products has become a familiar sight.
And as Lang supported UNICEF in Zanzibar in 2004, it is no longer the exclusive domain of pop singers and movie stars to use their fame to draw attention to humanitarian issues.
Despite the fact that music critics remain divided on the Lang Lang phenomenon, one cannot underestimate the influence of the "poster boy" effect on the marketing of classical music and musicians, intertwining art and commerce in a sophisticated manner.
Never before have artists reached out and communicated with their audiences through so many channels and in such a personal way.
Changes within the music industry also made structural adjustments in the approach to marketing necessary.
Steinway and Sons, for example, is hoping to offset declining sales of their pianos in the West by marketing a child-friendly "Lang Lang piano," complete with chalkboards, in the Far East. This piano would allow children to express their creativity beyond piano practice.
The powerful concept of an East-West connection is vibrating with vast potential worthy of celebration.