Simon Rattle and Lang Lang with Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2

Simon Rattle says of Lang Lang that he knows no other pianist who can play Béla Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto “so extraordinarily accurately” but can also “make it dance”. During the next few weeks, the two musicians present the work, which fully explores the limits of what is possible on the piano, with the Berliner Philharmoniker on a tour through China, Japan and Korea. This evening in the Philharmonie marks the beginning of their collaboration.

Berliner Philharmoniker

Sir Simon Rattle conductor

Lang Lang piano

Richard Strauss

Don Juan, op. 20

Béla Bartók

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, No.2

Lang Lang piano

Johannes Brahms

Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98

Dates and Tickets

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Sir Simon Rattle confesses he can’t remember ever having heard a pianist who could play Béla Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto “so extraordinarily accurately” and also still have the “technical reserves” at his disposal to “make the music dance” in a work which fully explores the limits of what is possible on the piano. The pianist in question is Lang Lang, born in Shenyang in 1982 and the whizz-kid of the younger generation of pianists. When he made his debut in Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concerts with a recital as part of the piano series in May 2004, Lang Lang had already made his mark with a CD of recordings of piano concertos by Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn and conquered concert halls such as New York’s Carnegie Hall. His charismatic playing, which from the outset has had an astonishingly widespread appeal, made the Waldbühne concert at the end of the 2003/2004 season under the baton of Sir Simon the perfect opportunity for his first meeting with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

The artistic friendship between the exceptional Chinese pianist and the Berliner Philharmoniker was cemented by Lang Lang’s appointment as Pianist in Residence for the 2009/2010 season. The conscientiousness with which he approaches his work can be seen alone in the fact that he spent no less than seven years preparing his interpretation of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto. He then recorded the work on CD in 2013 – paired with Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 – with Sir Simon and the Berliner Philharmoniker.

In these concerts, Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto follows Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem Don Juan, premiered in 1889 – a dazzling musical homage in every conceivable orchestral colour to the erotic adventures the legendary Spanish playboy and womaniser who, among others, Mozart secured a place of honour in the history of musical theatre in his opera Don Giovanni. Strauss’s tone poem is based on the surviving fragment of a dramatic poem by Nikolaus Lenau and does not portray the events of the story but draws together the contradictory aspects of the legendary figure by purely orchestral means. In the second part of the concert, the Philharmoniker and its chief conductor then turn to Johannes Brahms’s Fourth and also final symphony. Probably the strictest of all his orchestral works in terms of expression and construction, it was given its first performance by the Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of Brahms’s friend Joseph Joachim just a few weeks after its premiere, which was conducted by the composer himself.

(photo: Robert Ascroft/Sony Classical)