Lang Lang is a phenomenal performer, one of the most internationally acclaimed pianists; and Chucho Valdés, a pianist, composer, and winner of five Grammy and three Latin Grammy awards.
These two greats came together on October 9 in a unique concert, in the truest sense of the word, in Old Havana’s exceptional Plaza de la Catedral to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding (November 16).
The distinguished pianists were accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra, on this occasion under the baton of U.S. conductor Marin Alsop, musical director of the Baltimore and Sao Paulo symphony orchestras.
The concert began with Alsop leading the National Symphony Orchestra in “Cuban Overture” by George Gershwin from the United States and the famous “Enigma Variations” by Britain’s Edward Elgar.
The Chinese pianist opened with none other than the first movement of “Piano ConcertoNo.1, Op. 23”, by Russian composer Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky.
A fine choice for the musician who, aged 17, replaced André Watts with this piece in the Ravinia Festival, Chicago, and since that moment has seen his fame continue to grow.
No one can remain indifferent toTchaikovsky’s No. 1, and even less so when played by the charmingly brilliantLang Lang, in a performance which demonstrated all the qualities afforded him by critics; impressive skills, impeccable precision, prodigious technique and instantaneous communication.
The Chinese and Cuban performers conversed in a merging of styles and talents, in three Cuban pieces: “Y la negra bailaba” and “Gitanerías,” by Ernesto Lecuona, and “Tres lindas cubanas,” by Antonio María Romeu.
Lang Lang had already stated that he would play Cuban music during a press conference held prior to the concert at Cuba’s National Theatre. “Challenges like this excite me and I enjoy performing pieces from the country I am visiting. It wouldn’t be a challenge to come here and do something I already know.”
For his part, maestro Chucho performed two of his own works, “Claudia“ and “Nanu,” without overlooking a jazz number, for which he selected “Victory Stride,” by James Price Johnson from the U.S.
Renditions of “El cumbanchero,” by Puerto Rico’sRafael Hernández and “Happy Birthday” in honor of Chucho’s 74 birthday (October 9, 1941) and that of his father Bebo, another great of Cuban music (October 9, 1918 – Stockholm, March 22, 2013) concluded the concert
Speaking to the press, Chucho noted that the idea to hold a concert in Havana emerged during an encounter between the two musicians in Vienna, in March 2013. “At that time we were doing something together with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” It was a conversation, a game for the both of us,” noted the author of “Misa negra.”
A noteworthy detail: Lang Lang played a Steinway & Sons piano, worth around $130,000 dollars, which was subsequently donated by the manufacturer to the Cuban Institute of Music.
The concert was magnificent, with two world renowned figures as its protagonists. It was a genuine privilege to enjoy performances by Lang Lang and Chucho Valdés, together in Havana, and an extraordinary gift for music lovers. The open air concert, lasting over two hours, which took place on a glorious October evening in the Plaza de la Catedral, was an absolute treat; a singular prologue to the approaching 500th anniversary of the city of San Cristóbal de La Habana.