July 6, 2009 / 11:02 AM / 10 years ago

Lang Lang, Herbie Hancock in bold Montreux premiere

MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) - Chinese piano virtuoso Lang Lang made his first appearance at the Montreux jazz festival on Sunday, teaming up with veteran Herbie Hancock in an audacious show blending classical and jazz music.

Chinese pianist Lang Lang acknowledges the crowd before his show with pianist Herbie Hancock during the 43rd Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux July 5, 2009. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

The two men dressed in black sat facing each other at twin grand pianos to perform a program ranging from Maurice Ravel to George Gershwin.

“I am very happy to debut here at this great jazz festival. Don’t worry, there will be some jazzy stuff later on,” Lang Lang, 27, reassured the Swiss audience at the sell-out event.

“We’re having a quiet party now,” he said after the unlikely pair launched into Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, accompanied by the Orchestre National de Lyon, conducted by John Axelrod.

Lang Lang, perhaps the best known young pianist on the international stage, then played two stirring solos, Liebestraum by Franz Liszt and Tango.

He took up piano aged 2 and gave his first public recital at the age of 5, going on to perform at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics last August. He lives in the United States.

Lang Lang and Hancock are booked at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, July 11 on a world tour culminating at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles next month.

One could hear a pin drop in the celebrated Stravinski Auditorium, where only a day before Steely Dan and Dave Matthews led a hard-jamming Fourth of July party. The Black Eyed Peas follows on Monday night at the venue along Lake Geneva.

Festival founder Claude Nobs proposed the two musicians team up while attending the 2008 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles where he watched an improvised performance by Hancock and Lang Lang.

Hancock, making his 30th Montreux appearance at the 43-year-old festival, sat next to the spiky-haired Lang Lang for Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, rearranged for four hands.

Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for two pianos and orchestra mesmerized the crowd of all ages who paid up to 300 Swiss francs a ticket. The pair ended with Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 — which Lang Lang says inspired him when he heard it in a Tom & Jerry cartoon at 2 years old.

Producer and composer Quincy Jones, who co-produced the Swiss festival from 1991-93, is back in town for a few days and made a cameo appearance to introduce the pair.

“I’m happy to play a tiny part in this momentous occasion. As usual, Claude knows how to make it special,” he said.

“Herbie has been practicing up to five hours a day — as serious as a heart attack,” Jones said. “This is one of the highests of highs, it’s as good as it gets.”

Editing by Louise Ireland

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