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How do you create critical mass at a classical music concert?

For 100 piano students joining superstar pianist Lang Lang onstage this Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, at Sonoma State University’s Weill Hall, the trick is to coordinate 1,010 fingers, 202 hands, two Steinway Concert Grand pianos and 49 electric keyboards to create the sound of one gigantic orchestra.

The “101 Pianists” master class, which has been presented around the world by Lang Lang and his International Music Foundation, is aimed not only at educating the young pianists on the stage but at inspiring the kids in the audience. Each keyboard will be played by two pianists at once.

“It’s unusual that an artist of his caliber likes to teach, but this is his giving back, ” said Robin Beloff-Wachsberg, a Santa Rosa piano teacher who was asked to find 100 local piano students to perform with Lang Lang. “He wants to create a new generation of pianists.”

“Through music, I want children to see a different dimension of life,” Lang Lang said in a video made about s “101 Pianists.” “I want to show them how music can help them realize their dreams.”

In October 2012, Lang Lang played a gala recital for Weill Hall’s grand opening, then returned for another recital in September 2013. In 2014, he hand-picked the Hamburg Steinway Concert Grand piano that made its debut during the hall’s 2014-15 season.

For opening night this Saturday, Oct. 3, Lang Lang will return to perform on that 9-foot piano during a recital of Chopin’s Scherzos Nos. 1-4, Bach’s Concerto Italiano and Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons.” As one of his encores, he will offer up the “101 Pianists” educational event and concert on Sunday.

“Weill Hall is a very special place for me,” the 33-year-old Lang Lang said. “I remember a few years ago playing on the opening night and how amazing it felt … I can still remember the keys of the piano, and I received such a warm welcome that it’s almost like my California home away from home.”

Beloff-Wachsberg, who has taught piano in Sonoma County for 30 years, first met Lang Lang 17 years ago when the Chinese pianist came to Sonoma County to perform with the Santa Rosa Symphony. At the time, he was just 16 years old and had yet to become a household name.

“I just really believe in Lang Lang,” Beloff-Wachsberg said. “He has this unquenchable spirit, and it really shows up in his music. He’s very cool and hip, and there’s so much emotion in his playing.”

As the coordinator for “101 Pianists,” Beloff-Wachsberg reached out to piano teachers around the Bay Area to help her choose the aspiring pianists for the program. After contacting 22 teachers, she came up with a list of 50 students from Sonoma County, 16 from Marin County, 12 from San Francisco, 20 from Alameda County and two from Los Angeles.

“The teachers were asked to choose kids who could really polish, be coachable on the spot and learn the music so well that it could be memorized … We want to get the students up to these really thrilling, fast, tempi,” she said.

Since July, the students have been learning two famous duets from the piano repertoire: Schubert’s “Marche Militaire” No. 1 and Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance” in F-sharp minor. A few have dropped out; most have hung on. There are 68 students ages 12 to 18 and 32 students ages 6 to 11.

“Part of Lang Lang’s goal is to reach out to younger players,” Beloff-Wachsberg said. “The thought of playing in that new hall with a charismatic young pianist has really lit a fire under them.”

There will be 72 pianists playing the original score, and 28 who will play a simplified version of the score. The students have been getting together to practice in groups, so they can anticipate the parts where they may start to rush ahead.

“The kids will be nervous, and they will be speeding up,” Beloff-Wachsberg explained. “I tell them they need to breathe each phrase.”

During the master class, Lang Lang will stop the students and explain various techniques, such as how to phrase the music, how to create dynamic nuance and how to stretch the tempos, a concept known as rubato.

“He tries to get them to think very musically,” Beloff-Wachsberg said. “But he talks about it in a way that kids will love.”

During the concert, Lang Lang will play one of the concert grand pianos, and the other will be shared by a “star duo,” made up of 14-year-old Katie Gu and 11-year-old Andrew Gao, both of Santa Rosa.

The rest of the students will share 48 Roland electric pianos with full keyboards and weighted keys and pedals. The students will all play together for the first time during a rehearsal on Sunday morning, which Beloff-Wachsberg will lead as the official “beat keeper.”

The fact that they will be making music together as an ensemble will not only add to the fun, she said, but may alleviate some of the usual pressure of playing as a piano soloist.

“They’re playing on an instrument that is normally pretty solitary,” Benloff-Wachsberg said. “They have never had an experience like this before... and never will again.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane. peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

Lang Lang and Friend

Opening Night, Oct. 3: Cocktail reception at 6 p.m. Saturday in Prelude Restaurant, followed by recital by Lang Lang at 7 p.m. in Weill Hall and dinner afterward prepared by Trevor Kunk, executive chef of Press Napa Valley of St. Helena. Tickets to the recital start at $65.

Opening Weekend. Oct. 4: “101 Pianists” educational event and concert at 2 p.m. Sunday at Weill Hall + Lawn. Tickets are $10.

Where: Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.

Reservations: 1-866-955-6040 or gmc.sonoma.edu.

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