Piano virtuoso Lang Lang is celebrating 100 years of The Walt Disney Company with the best way he knows how: the release of The Disney Book. He debuts the adapted collection of songs on Sept. 16, offering Disney’s worldwide fanship a classical take on longtime beloved songs, like “You’ll Be in my Heart” from Tarzan; “Reflection” from Mulan and “Life is a Highway” from Cars, among others.
To kick off the album’s release, Lang Lang will grace The Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 15 for a special Disney-filled night. Ahead of the show, he opened up about the impact of animation on his childhood, finding the right artists to collaborate with and why The Disney Book brings the 100-year anniversary full circle.
First and foremost, how did The Disney Book get started?
Animation played a big role in my childhood. This is something I always wanted to share with classical music lovers and nonclassical music fans. And this is a perfect way to show how beautiful classical piano can be from the really incredible arrangements.
All those animation movies taught me so much about life. And also, all those characters represented a certain volume and a certain melody. So when I play piano, I feel different characters grow under my fingers. I think I'm drawing a picture of a cat. I'm drawing a picture of a mouse. I'm drawing a picture of a dog. So in a way, all those different melodies inspired me to play. Piano became a way of telling the story.
First, we were just recording my favorite Disney songs… After 80% of the work was done, we shared the track to Disney and they heard it and they really liked it very much and they said they would like to support me and to be part of this wonderful project. And they even let us use the Disney castle in Anaheim to record.
It's really great to have Disney on board. It's absolutely a dream come true moment to have the best of the Disney melodies from a long time ago— from Three Little Pigs to the most current one, Encanto, “We Don't Talk About Bruno.”
You also have a number of featured artists on The Disney Book, like Andrea Bocelli and Jon Batiste. How did those collaborations come about?
My new friend Jon Batiste, who's an incredible musician and a great jazz player, we met five years ago and we were trying something where we were trying to improvise on top of each other. And then, two years later, he released the most amazing movie soundtrack, Soul. This is one of the best soundtracks ever, this New Orleans jazz style. And so I invited him and I said, “Would you mind if I'm playing more of the basic classical jazz style, but could you play on top of me to play the New Orleans jazz style and also you can sing with it?” And he said, “That's a good idea. Let's try it.” So that's the version I recorded in London with the Royal Philharmonic, and then Jon Batiste is playing his version on top of what I did. And this was something quite unique. This reminds me of my past experience of working with the legendary Herbie Hancock.
And we [also] approached Sebastián Yatra. We said, “I know you normally sing this with a band, but would you mind trying another version with pure piano? Nothing else. Just piano.” And he's like, “OK, this is quite interesting for me.” For him, he already recorded [“Dos Oruguitas”]. He doesn't need to do one more track, but he thought this will be interesting to see the varieties of sound and piano and what chemistry will come.
Why is celebrating Disney’s music a powerful way to honor The Walt Disney Company’s centennial anniversary?
Show me a person who's not influenced by the Disney films! Not even one person around the world. To be a part of this is a great privilege. It’s also interesting because Disney started with classical music.
This brings back the classical music connection, like Fantasia for example. So for me, it is a great privilege, but also I think it's good to remind the new generation that Disney always supported classical music.
What experience do you hope listeners have when playing The Disney Book?
It's an emotional journey. From Beauty and Beast to The Jungle Book, I hope that this will give you time travel to your childhood from where you are now. And then for the younger generation, I hope this will be a new door-opening experience for them to be connected to the world. Another thing about The Disney Book is there's so many different cultures: you have Mexican culture, you have Latino American culture, you have German culture, you have French culture. And of course, you have a lot of fairytales from America, from the Middle East, from China. So in a way, we are learning about the whole world through Disney music and Disney films.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Photo by Simon Webb