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.