When Lang Lang was nine, his father told him to kill himself. Four years before, his father had decided that his only son should become the No 1 classical pianist in China. He gave up his job as a policeman and took his son to live in Beijing, leaving Lang Lang's mother behind, planning to get the child into the prestigious Central Conservatory of Music.
However, his teacher in Beijing, nicknamed Professor Angry by Lang Lang, had other ideas. "Professor Angry didn't like me and she always gave me a hard time," he remembers. "One afternoon she said that I had no talent, that I shouldn't play the piano and I should go home. She basically fired me before I could even get into the conservatory!"
Unbelievably, when Lang Lang's father heard the news, he demanded that the boy take his own life. "It's really hard to talk about. My father went totally nuts," says Lang Lang quietly. "He said: 'You shouldn't live any more – everything is destroyed.'" The father handed his son a bottle saying, "Take these pills!" When Lang Lang ran out on to the balcony to get away from him, his father screamed: "Then jump off and die."
"I got totally crazy too," says Lang Lang. "I was beating the wall, trying to prevent myself from being a pianist by destroying my hands. I hated everything: my father, the piano, myself. I went nuts too. And then somehow, we just stopped. My father went out or I ran out – I can't remember, but somehow we stopped. After that I didn't want to play piano any more. I said, "OK, fine. Let's go home.'"
Now 28, Lang Lang has surpassed his father's ambition. The musician's recitals and concerts sell out in every major city in the world and he is the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Vienna and Berlin philharmonic orchestras.
Lang Lang has played to President Obama at the White House and before a global audience of billions at the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. The "Lang Lang effect" is credited with inspiring China's 40 million classical piano students and, in 2009, he was listed in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World. His name, Lang Lang, has even become a trademark.