The Well-Tempered Ear

Can American film director Ron Howard make a sensitive and accurate biopic of Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang? Or is it a cultural appropriation that deserves to be condemned?

September 27, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The self-appointed PC diversity police have struck again.

This is getting silly and tiresome, insulting and embarrassing.

Some advocates of cultural diversity are crying foul over the latest project of the American and Academy Award-winning Hollywood film director Ron Howard: making a biopic of the superstar Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang (below).

The script will be drawn from the pianist’s bestselling memoir “Journey of a Thousand Miles” — which has also been recast as an inspirational children’s book — and the director and scriptwriters will consult with Lang Lang.

It seems to The Ear a natural collaboration, as well as a surefire box office hit, between two high-achieving entertainers. Check out their bios:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lang_Lang

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Howard

But some people are criticizing the project in the belief that because Ron Howard  (below) is white and Western, he cannot do justice to someone who is Chinese or to Asian culture.

Here is an essay, found on the website of Classic FM, by one objector. She is Chinese film director Lulu Wang (below), who says she has no interest in doing the project herself: https://www.classicfm.com/artists/lang-lang/pianist-biopic-ron-howard-faces-criticism-lulu-wang/

Talk about misplaced alarm over “cultural appropriation.”

Don’t you think that Lang Lang will have a lot to say about how he is depicted?

Do you wonder if Wang thinks cultural appropriation works in reverse?

Should we dismiss Lang Lang’s interpretations of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Bartok simply because he is non-Western and Chinese rather than German, French or Russian?

Of course not. They should be taken on their own merits, just as the interpretations of any other Asian classical musician, and artists in general including Ai Weiwei, should be.

But however unfairly, cultural appropriation just doesn’t seem to work in reverse.

Mind you, The Ear thinks that cultural appropriation is a valid concept and can indeed sometimes be useful in discussing cross-cultural influences.

But it sure seems that the concept is being applied in an overly broad and even misdirected or ridiculous way, kind of the way that the idea of “micro-aggressions” can be so generously applied that it loses its ability to be truthful and useful.

Take the example of the heterosexual Taiwanese movie director Ang Lee. He certainly proved himself able to depict American culture in “The Ice Storm” and the gay world in “Brokeback Mountain.”

Let’s be clear. The Ear is a piano fan.

But if he objects to the project, it is because he doesn’t like Lang Lang’s flamboyant playing, his Liberace-like performance manners and showmanship, and his exaggerated facial expressions.

Yet there is no denying the human appeal of his story. He rose from a young and suicidal piano student (below) who was emotionally abused by his ambitious father – shades of the lives of young Mozart and Beethoven and probably many other prodigies – to become the best known, most frequently booked and highest paid classical pianist in the world. 

Yet not for nothing did some critics baptize him with the nickname Bang Bang.

Still, the Curtis Institute graduate does all he can to foster music education, especially among the young and the poor.

And there is simply no denying his virtuosity. (See Lang Lang playing Liszt’s Paganini etude “La Campanella” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So there is plenty to object to about Lang Lang the Piano Star besides the ethnicity of Ron Howard, who also did a biopic of opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, in telling his story.

What do you think?

Is it culturally all right for Ron Howard to direct a film about Lang Lang?

Do you look forward to the movie and seeing it?

What do you think of Lang Lang as a pianist and a celebrity?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players open their new four-concert season this Saturday night with an all-Mozart program

October 10, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed Mosaic Chamber Players (below, in a photo by John W. Barker) will open their new season this coming Saturday night, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m. in the older and historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program is all works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) and includes the following pieces:

The Sonata for Violin and Piano in C Major, K. 303, features violinist Laura Burns, of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Oakwood Chamber Players,  and pianist Jess Salek, who is also the founder and artistic director of the chamber music ensemble.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano in B-Flat Major K. 454, will be performed by violinist Wes Luke, of the Ancora String Quartet and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and pianist Salek.

The energetic Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478, features violinist Laura Burns, violist Wes Luke, pianist Salek and cellist Derek Handley (below), of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can see a graphic depiction of the first movement of the Piano Quartet.)

Tickets are $15 for general admission, $10 for seniors, and $5 for students. Only checks or cash will be accepted.

A reception will be held after the performance

Here are the concerts and programs – all take place at the First Unitarian Society — for the rest of four-concert season, including two-all Beethoven concerts to mark the Beethoven Year in which the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth will be celebrated.

Friday, Feb. 21, at noon (Free admission)

All-Beethoven (below) String Sonata Program:

Sonata in F Major for Piano and Cello, Op. 5, No. 1

Sonata in E-Flat Major for Piano and Violin, Op. 12, No. 3

Sonata in C minor for Piano and Violin, Op. 30, No. 2

Saturday March 21, at 7:30 p.m. (Tickets required)

All-Prokofiev (below) Program:

Sonata in F minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 80

Sonata in D Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 94a

Sonata in C Major for Cello and Piano, Op. 119

Saturday June 13, 2020 7:30 p.m. (Tickets required)

All-Beethoven Piano Trio Program:

Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1

Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 2

Piano Trio in G Major, Op. 121a: “Kakadu” Variations

For more information about the group and biographies of the players, go to: http://www.mosaicchamberplayers.com

You can also follow the group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mosaicchamberplayers/


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