Classical pianist Lang Lang was the star turn at Midem this afternoon, talking about his career, but also how he uses technology to connect to his fans and reach new one.
Against a backdrop of arguing musicians, rightsholders and technology firms, his positivity about the potential for technology and music was refreshing.
Lang Lang love of music started with cartoons as a child – he cited Tom & Jerry – The Cat Concerto as a key early influence. “It was a cartoon, not a CD LP or a cassette tape that first inspired my great passion for the piano and classical music,” he said, before turning to technology.
“The speed at which new technology is introduced every day is dizzying,” he said, addressing the technology industry. “We as musicians are greatly indebted to you for enabling us to spread our love for music globally, through your creativity.”
“The power of technology is limitless, much like the power of music. Perhaps this is why they are such good partners,” he continued.
“As we have witnessed in the past few years, social media totally changed many parts of the world. But it has also served as an instant tool for communication partnerships, networking and charitable purposes. Similarly, music has no boundaries. It’s often cited as a universal language, and through that unique language it brings people together, and helps bridge cultural gaps between countries.”
Lang Lang said social networks have been “a brilliant tool for me”, whether he’s keeping fans informed about his travels, concerts and recordings, or simply to respond to friends.
“I am now focusing on bringing music to a new generation of listeners,” he said. “A fresh and embracing approach to technology is vital to achieve this. But unfortunately in the current economic climate, funding for the arts is getting very low priority. It is therefore up to us to use our imagination collectively to reach out and make a serious effort for the benefit of the next generation. We need to be using technology to connect people that are at every end of the economic spectrum.”
Lang Lang has his own international music foundation, which aims to give children the opportunity to perform and foster their interest in music, as well as giving masterclasses to children in major music conservatories – in return getting their teachers to come and give sessions to kids through Lang Lang’s foundation. It also supports a music school in China.
He said he’s keen to see computer engineers and developers putting their heads together with music students and teachers. “Creating new software, new apps. There are a lot of ideas. I think we can certainly talk openly,” he said.
“But there is one thing that no software can replicate, and that is human feeling. Ultimately what counts in music is the humanity. That will inspire and move the listener, and which only comes through the depth of the performance, experiences and emotions.
Lang Lang says he’s very positive about classical music’s status. “We are actually in a good time, because we have social media. It’s much easier to access a great performance today, to be watched by millions of people, than years ago. I really believe if we always find the right moment with the internet, with social media, there will be opened up millions of ways to explore this great art.”
Would he call himself an artist-entrepreneur? “Today in our careers we not only need to perform, practise, but as a human being we need to set out our ideas… I strongly believe if you want to be a great musician, you also need to know how to become a good person, and how to open up your heart to your music world.”
Lang Lang has worked with Adidas, Volkswagen and other brands. How does he choose which to collaborate with? “You need to look into the history of the brands you are working with. You need to find if they are music lovers for a long time in their field. Those are the companies with which you have to work first,” he said.
“It’s challenging when you try to find the right partners, but it’s not impossible. At the end of the day there are still many good companies, and good individuals who are really giving their heart to the arts… I hope there will be more people like those wonderful friends to keep supporting music, classical music, piano, opera, and to help us to support and create a more healthier environment for classical music’s future – which is to inspire new audience members around the globe.”
Lang Lang added that he’s “quite open to exploring new platforms” online, to find new ways to connect to his fans. “Just passing by today’s conference I saw many interesting companies are having really interesting ideas of creating new apps. I heard a lot of discussion backstage… Technology, you never know. Maybe something doesn’t work for you, but something else pops up and you start to click with the ideas, and it maybe turns into a really good collaboration.”
The session ended with Lang Lang enthusing about seeing the impact music has on the children his foundation is working on. “The most effective thing is to bring kids together to play music together, and to work together,” he said, citing his 101 Pianists initiative. “It’s probably the most inspiring thing I’ve done in my life, to see the synergy power over the two-hour session, and to see how serious the kids become. And how hard they’re working together.”