“Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”

Lang Lang Lang Lang. Photo © Olaf Heine/Deutsche Grammophon

The words are Dante’s, but they could equally apply to many a mid-life artist who never expected the unexpected. Take Chinese pianist Lang Lang. Over the past two decades, he’s been many things to many people: the future of his artform; the world’s greatest classical rock star; a man more flash than substance – take your pick. He’s carried the Olympic Torch (London, 2012), was the first Ambassador of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, appeared in 3D, and even been trademarked (young pianists can choose from five versions of the ‘Lang Lang™ Steinway’). But then, in 2017 an injury gave him pause for thought. And although he now calls himself tendonitis-free, the soon to be 37-year-old Lang Lang comes across, perhaps, as a more considered version of his tearaway younger self, at least that is my impression over an enjoyable 40-minute chat at Universal Music’s New York HQ.

Not that he’s lost any of his pulling power. Arriving at the Verve Label Group offices,...

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