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 Winter Concert Series by the Madison Youth Choirs next Saturday and Sunday feature the theme of “Resilience” with guest artist Tony Memmel

December 2, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

This semester, the Madison Youth Choirs welcome guest artist Tony Memmel, a singer-songwriter and guitarist whose story of ingenuity and resilience will inspire young singers and audience members alike.

Born without a left forearm or hand, Memmel (below) taught himself to play guitar by building a homemade cast out of Gorilla Tape, and has become an internationally acclaimed musician, thoughtful teacher and ambassador for young people with limb differences. (You can hear Memmel talk about  himself in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

On this coming Saturday night, Dec. 8, and Sunday afternoon, Dec., 9, at the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School at 2100 Bristol Street, Memmel will join the Madison Youth Choirs in a Winter Concert Series called “Resilience” because it focuses on the ability to overcome challenges both visible and invisible, and along the way discover the limitless possibilities that exist inside each of us.

Here is the schedule:

Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7:00 p.m. – Purcell, Britten, Holst and Ragazzi choirs

Sunday, Dec. 9, at 4:00 p.m. – Choraliers, Con Gioia, Capriccio, Cantilena and Cantabile choir

Tickets will be available at the door, $10 for general admission; $5 for students 7-18; and free for children under 7.

These concerts are generously endowed by the Diane Ballweg Performance Fund with additional support from our sponsors, American Girl’s Fund for Children, BMO Harris Bank, Dane Arts with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. This project is also supported by the Madison Arts Commission and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.

About Madison Youth Choirs (MYC): Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community.

Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self-confidence, personal responsibility, and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.

For more information about supporting or joining MYC, go to: https://www.madisonyouthchoirs.org

HERE IS THE COMPLETE REPERTOIRE OF THE MYC 2018 WINTER CONCERT SERIES “RESILIENCE”:

SATURDAY, DEC.  8, at 7:00 p.m. Concert (featuring MYC Boychoirs)

Combined Boychoirs with Tony Memmel

“Clenched Hands, Brave Demands” by Tony Memmel

“Though My Soul May Set in Darkness,” text by Sarah Williams, composer unknown

 Purcell

“Who Can Sail” Scandinavian Folk Song, arr. Jeanne Julseth-Heinrich

“Hine Ma Tov” Hebrew Folk Song, arr. Henry Leck

Britten   

“Jerusalem,” poem by William Blake, music by Sir Hubert Parry

“This Little Babe” from A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten

Holst

“Keep Your Lamps,” traditional spiritual, arr. André Thomas

“Out of the Deep” by John Wall Callcott

“Shosholoza,” Traditional song from Zimbabwe, arr. Albert Pinsonneault

Combined Boychoirs

“Angels’ Carol” by John Rutter

Tony Memmel

Selections to be announced

Ragazzi

“Wie Melodien” (Op. 5, No. 1) by Johannes Brahms

“The Chemical Worker’s Song” by Ron Angel, arr. after Great Big Sea

“Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight” by Abbie Betinis

Combined Boychoirs with Tony Memmel (below)

“America to Go” by Tony Memmel

SUNDAY, DEC. 9, at 4:00 p.m. Concert (featuring MYC Girlchoirs)

Combined Girlchoirs with Tony Memmel

“Clenched Hands, Brave Demands” by Tony Memmel

Choraliers

“Be Like a Bird,” Text from Victor Hugo, music by Arthur Frackenpohl

“Art Thou Troubled” by George Frideric Handel

“Blustery Day” by Victoria Ebel-Sabo

Con Gioia

“Bist du bei mir” by Johann Sebastian Bach from “The Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach”

“I Heard a Bird Sing” by Cyndee Giebler

“Ask the Moon” from Three Settings of the Moon by Ron Nelson

“I’ll Overcome Someday” by C.A. Tindley

“We Shall Overcome” arr. by Marie McManama and Con Gioia

“i shall imagine” by Daniel Brewbaker, text by e.e. cummings

South African National Anthem by E.M. Sontonga and M.L. de Villiers

Capriccio

“Resilience” by Abbie Betinis

“Be Like the Bird” by Abbie Betinis

“Esurientes” from Magnificat in G minor by Antonio Vivaldi

“And Ain’t I a Woman!” by Susan Borwick, adapted from a speech by Sojourner Truth

Tony Memmel

Selections to be announced by Tony Memmel

Cantilena

“Vanitas vanitatum” by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck

“Chant for a Long Day” by Stephen Hatfield

“Wir eilen mit schwachen doch emsigen Schritten”(from BWV 78) by Johann Sebastian Bach

“The Storm is Passing Over” by Charles Albert Tindley, arr. Barbara Baker

Cantabile

“Ich weiss nicht”(Op. 113, No. 11) by Johannes Brahms, text by Friedrich Rueckert

“Widmung” (Op.25, No. 1) by Johannes Brahms, text by Friedrich Rueckert

“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” by Charles Davidson

Combined Choirs with Tony Memmel

“America to Go” by Tony Memmel


Posted in Classical music
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