Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

A hot question buzzing on the Internet in China this week is this: Did the Chinese-born pianist Lang Lang mean to send a pointed message with the song he played at the state dinner at the White House last Wednesday.

(Soundbite of song, "My Motherland")

BLOCK: The song is called "My Motherland." It was written for a Chinese movie about the Korean War from 1956.

(Soundbite of song, "My Motherland")

(Soundbite of film, "Battle on Shangganling Mountain")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: The film portrays the war as a triumph over U.S. imperialism and has been used as anti-American propaganda. But I when I reached Lang Lang today, he said he had no idea about any of that.

Mr. LANG LANG (Pianist): The truth is, I only know this piece because it's a beautiful melody. And, actually, I played many times as encore before because it's, artistically, it's a beautiful piece. I never thought about, you know, and I never knew about anything about, you know, the background.

BLOCK: Well, some people, as you know, on blogs in China, are seizing on this, saying that it was a moment for a world famous pianist to sort of drop a note of nationalism, of Chinese nationalism into the States here.

Mr. LANG LANG: You know, that's the last thing I want to do because, first of all, you know, I grew up as a teenager in America. I mean, I studied at Curtis. And I feel both China and America is my home. And, you know, I have a really wonderful emotions towards American people. And I have a lot of my great friends, my teachers, are all from here.

So for me, you know, to be invited to play at White House is a great honor. And especially, you know, to play for president of my homeland and also the country which I live, which is America. So, I only wanted to bring the best, you know, of the music melodies. And that's it, you know. I am absolutely say it from bottom of my heart that, you know, I think music, it's a bridge between our cultures.

BLOCK: The song that you played, in the movie, in the "Battle on Shangganling Mountain," which came out in 1956, it is a very nationalistic song and it...

Mr. LANG LANG: You know, I never know about that movie. I just learned it afterward. It's like, 1956. This is when my mother was two years old. I mean, this is 55 years ago. And when I grew up, I only hear this as a beautiful melody. That's it. And this piece is very popular as a traditional Chinese song.

BLOCK: I've been told that this song is a favorite at karaoke bars.

Mr. LANG LANG: Yeah. I mean, it's just, you know, it's a song that, like, everyone in the Chinese world knows about the melody. You know, I mean, that's the truth. I mean, I choose it because its beautiful melody. I have this connection through the melody. It's a really beautiful melody.

BLOCK: Well, Lang Lang, what were your - how did you react when you heard that in China, on the Web, people were adding meaning to this choice thinking you were sort of thumbing your nose at the United States in some way? What did you think?

Mr. LANG LANG: I feel very sad. You know, I very sad. And, you know, and I must say, disappointing. Because, you know, as a person, what I'm trying to do, and what my missions are, you know, making music. And, you know, I'm very honored that people inviting me to play in those great events and to connect us to classical music and to music, to Chinese music and to American music, to, you know, to world music. And once, you know, people use it as a political issue, that makes me really sad because I am a musician. I'm not a politician.

BLOCK: Well, Lang Lang, it's good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

Mr. LANG LANG: OK. Bye-bye.

BLOCK: The pianist Lang Lang talking about the song, "My Motherland," which he played at the state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House last Wednesday.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.