Pianist Lang Lang Discusses Pushing the Boundaries of Classical Music and Performing in at the Expo 2020 Dubai Opening Ceremony

Lindsay Judge   |   04-10-2021

Award-winning pianist Lang Lang has been changing the world’s perception of classical music for the last two decades.


His beautiful, yet modern interpretation of iconic musical pieces has got him recognised on a global scale for his incredible talent. Growing up in China, Lang Lang knew he wanted to play the piano from a very young age, starting lessons when he was just three years old. When he turned five he took first place at the Shenyang Piano Competition and performed his first public recital. The early starter didn’t always have it easy, however. He was repeatedly knocked back and told he wasn’t good enough by his piano tutor, but the determined young man always knew it was his destiny. By the age of 14, his hard work had started to pay off and he was a featured soloist for the China National Symphony’s inaugural concert, a pivotal moment in his career. Soon after, he moved to The United States with his father to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.


After moving to America the young musician became increasingly recognised on an international scale. His unique style of playing classical music allowed him to reach a broader audience than almost any other young pianist had done before. Lang Lang’s career has gone from strength to strength since then and he has become an internationally recognised name, even playing with the likes of Coldplay at the recent Global Citizen concert in New York. Lang Lang recently travelled to the UAE to take his place as one of the headline acts at the Expo 2020 Dubai Opening Ceremony. Performing on the global stage and bringing the world together through his music is something that sets his passion alive and we were honoured to meet him during his trip.


Five years ago, Lang Lang joined forces with watch brand Hublot. As a creative who loves to push the boundaries Lang Lang was the perfect partner for a brand that also loves to go beyond the norm and express its creativity in new, out-of-the-box ways. It was a match made in heaven! Lang Lang went on to create two limited edition watches with Hublot in 2016, as well as being a loyal customer and partner throughout the last five years. When looking for a watch to wear whilst playing at Expo 2020 Dubai, Lang Lang knew he wanted something special and Hublot didn’t disappoint! We find out more about this as well as the honour of performing at Expo 2020 Dubai and on a personal level, how becoming a parent has changed his outlook on the world.


Lang Lang wears: Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Full Magic Gold


Welcome to Dubai! How do you feel to be here?

Thank you – I feel wonderful to be here! This is my second time, the first was fifteen years ago, and this time around I am here for Expo 2020 Dubai, so it’s very exciting!


You are getting ready to perform at the opening ceremony of Expo 2020 Dubai – tell us what we can expect and what does it mean to you to be performing at this event? 

Tomorrow is probably the biggest event the world has seen since the pandemic began and I think it’s the perfect show to bring everyone back together – by uniting minds and creating the future. For my performance, I’m going to play something very romantic with some balancing pieces and the message I want to share is love, passion, and building a friendship.


What is something you would like to do while you’re here in Dubai?

The last time I was here I visited the desert and I saw many different locations, but this was fifteen years ago, so I think it has changed a lot and I would like to check out some new things.


You have been a partner of Hublot for a long time now – tell us why you decided to work with the brand and what are the values you share with them?

They are the most creative and adventurous brand I know. Their craftsmanship is top-level, but at the same time, they are always so brave in the way they are constantly trying to break through with new ideas and to turn the world of imagination into reality. We saw this with the creation of Magic Gold for example, and also with some of the new materials that combine old and new to make something completely different. I also love their incredible collaborations with great artists, sports stars, DJs, and great brands – the sky is the limit at Hublot. It’s very rare to see this much creativity from luxury watch brands and I think it’s an incredible brand to be aligned with.


Lang Lang wears: Hublot Unico Golf Black Carbon


Which watch will you choose to wear for the Expo 2020 Dubai opening ceremony?

I will be wearing the Bing Bang Unico Sapphire. It’s a full sapphire watch with complete transparency – it’s very light, very beautiful and pure and you can see a lot of beautiful details of the watch as I play. It’s one of my favourites. Actually, five years ago when I spoke to Jean-Claude Biver he told me how they were going to design a watch like this, and now to see it created is just great.


Are there any specific elements you look for or avoid when choosing a watch to play the piano in?

I like to wear something light and something that offers a fresh look – I don’t like watches that look too old or classic – I feel these watches always looks the same. I like to have something different to look at and I like to wear a watch that inspires me when I’m on stage. This is what Hublot delivers for me.


How do you think the worlds of watchmaking and the arts are closely linked?

As you know the watch business is closely connected to culture, to sports, and to musicians. Many of the traditional brands team up with orchestras, tennis players, motor racers etc. but I think Hublot started to interrupt the trend when it aligned with the world of football, which was quite different for a watch brand at the time. I think because of Hublot’s approach, the industry has become much more open-minded. It is similar to the way that I got into the classical music world – with the same idea of trying to broaden the market and space that classical music is in and that’s where the common willingness to achieve between myself and Hublot comes in.


Lang Lang performs at the Expo 2020 Dubai Opening Ceremony


What can you tell us about the limited edition watches you have created with the brand and how do they reflect your vision and philosophy? 

We worked on this project five years ago after I had a great conversation with Jean-Claude Biver. He suggested we create some special watches together. He asked me what I look for from a watch and I told him that I love to hear the sound of a watch and to hear it chime – when I play music I can feel the waves of the sound. So he suggested a Tourbillon Cathedral Minute Repeater because it has this kind of cathedral sound and he wanted to work this into my watch. He then asked me what my favourite colour was and I told him black and gold – the colours of a piano! And we therefore created Classic Fusion Tourbillon Cathedral Minute Repeater Carbon Lang Lang which can play this beautiful cathedral sound.


What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your career and how do you overcome it?

My biggest challenge is to always continue to find a new direction, to improve artistically and to balance my career and my personal life. It’s not always easy to live a regular life and have an exciting career. As an artist, you have to constantly practice and constantly be working and it is very demanding.


And another challenge is that I want to make an impact on the world by helping to teach kids how to read and play music and to encourage them to feel closer to music. So I have to always be looking for ways to use technology to connect people to each other and connect them to music. I have the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and our aim with this is to help as many young musicians as possible, as well as building up a class which we call “Keys of Inspiration” which uses smart pianos so students can learn the method of playing online. It’s a great way of learning the basic skills before you go onto a real piano – and it’s much more fun as well!


Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire


What is something you would still like to achieve in your career that you haven’t done yet?

I just want to have a very good family life. My wife and I  just recently had a beautiful baby boy and I want to spend more time with him which recently is hard as we have just started this tour. So I’m very sad that I’m not able to see him that much and I would like to spend more time with him and my family. Aside from that, I want to continue achieving my dreams.


We saw you performing at the Global Citizen concert in New York last week with Coldplay – how was that experience?

That was an amazing experience. I really love Chris Martin. I was there playing a piano set and obviously, I wanted to see Chris Martin and talk about musical ideas with him. I saw him talking to Shawn Mendes and I went over and everyone got very excited and he said: “would you mind if we play something together tonight?” I said; “do we have time to rehearse?” and he said; “don’t worry I have a keyboard in my dressing room – do you know my song Clocks?” Which of course I do and I asked him what key – he said “E Flat” and then two hours later we were on stage performing it! Chris is a great musician and it was an amazing experience.


Who is your biggest inspiration?

It changes. When I was a kid I would look up to certain musicians who would inspire me and then throughout the years I would be inspired by someone else – it could even be a teacher. So it evolves. Now I think it would be my son!


How would you describe your own style of playing?

I try to be very personal in the way that I play, but I also want to be as close to the original, authentic sound of the composition as possible. I believe that there has to be a bridge between personal feelings and the original piece. Some of the songs I play are hundreds of years old so we have to create a connection to today because it has to be relevant.


Big Bang Unico Sapphire


What goes through your mind when you’re on stage?

Sometimes I create crazy stories in my mind or I think about a certain mood or landscape. I might see a beautiful mountain or beach. Sometimes I see characters or people having conversations. I always try to visualise something as I am playing.


What does it mean to you to be recognised for your music on an international scale?

It’s a wonderful thing to be an international artist and to be playing all over the world and I think the pandemic made me treasure this opportunity even more because we had a whole year with no concerts at all. So now, as we re-start, it is even more important to see how as musicians, we can influence each other and the world audience. It makes you value the experiences and I really want to spread my messages and emotions through music more than ever.


What is the life motto that you live by?

Always going forward.


What is a message of inspiration that you would like to send to our readers? 

I hope that everyone will listen to more classical music and find joy and peace in it. And I hope that the music will remain in their hearts.