A worthy arena must host such a fantastic performance, and Millennium Park’s Harris Theater fits the bill. “Opened in 2003, The Harris Theater’s mission is to partner and collaborate with an array of Chicago’s emerging and mid-sized performing arts organizations to help them build the resources and infrastructure necessary to achieve artistic growth and long term organizational sustainability. The Harris Theater for Music and Dance was the first multi-use performing arts venue to be built in the Chicago downtown area since 1929. Today, the theater continues to host the most diverse offerings of any venue in Chicago, featuring the city’s world-renowned music and dance institutions and the Harris Theater Presents series of acclaimed national and international companies.” Large and modern, the state of the art venue seats 1,470, ideal for the great crowds drawn by such celebrated talents.
Just as audience settled into their seats, the SHFO took the stage. Immediately I noticed how young they looked; no one could have been older than 30. Sure enough, their age is part of the organization to which they belong. The Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra is derived from that of Leonard Bernstein’s Orchestral Academy. Starting in Europe in 1987, the Academy served as a training center for the world’s greatest young musicians. Each year, auditions for admittance into this prestigious group are held all around the world in 30 cities. Of 1,200 who audition, 100 are chosen and all members are under the age of 26. Students live together at the home of the Orchestral Academy at the Salzau Castle located in North Hamburg, Germany.
Following their arrival, in came conductor Christoph Eschenbach. Eschenbach is one of the worlds most in demand conductors and holds dozens of credits including that of the Tonhalle Orchestra, The Houston Symphony and Ravinia Festival, to name a few. He currently directs the National Symphony and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. As head artistic director of the SHFO from 1999-2002, Eschenbach continues to conduct the orchestra while on tour.
The first selection from these talented performers was Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No.3 in C Major, a striking piece from his opera, Fidelio and the second selection Prokofiev's Symphony No.1 in D Major. Following was Mozart’s Piano Concert No.17 in G Major, and the arrival of Lang Lang. As the 27 year old music superstar entered the stage, the audience rose to their feet. Surely they knew they were in the presence of greatness.
Lang Lang has been taking the classical musical world by storm since age 17, when he was a last minute substitute at the “Gala of the Century” where he played Tchaikovsky’s concerto with the Chicago Symphony. Ever since, he has played hundreds of sold out performances including the opening ceremony of the Beijing’s Summer Olympic Games in 2008, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and the 2008 Grammy Awards where he performed with jazz musician Herbie Hancock. No stranger to critical acclaim, Lang Lang has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and has been designated the “hottest artist on the classical music planet” by the New York Times. He currently teaches throughout the world at esteemed music institutions such as the Curtis Institute of Music, Julliard School, Manhattan School of Music and the Hanover Conservatory, as well as in conservatories in his native China where he is an honorary professor. In addition, he holds the honor of being the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and all top American orchestras.
After final piece, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.3 in C Major, the crowd gave a standing ovation and Lang Lang proceded to play an encore. Watching Lang Lang play is like nothing one has ever seen. His touch so light, yet so vigorous, his connection with the orchestra so strong, yet understated. As his hands dance across the keys at a pace no one would think impossible, one is baffled by how he maintains such precision. Neither the piano nor the orchestra was ever upstaged; every note was played in perfect accord, and in turn created the most impeccable of sounds. I will watch for his return.
Photos: Eric Brissaud