Lang Lang performing at the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria, last year

You (and 4 billion other people) may have heard him play during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, seen his name on Time magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people, or checked him out when he made People’s list of the sexiest men. Chinese pianist Lang Lang is the closest thing the world has today to a classical piano matinee idol. Just ask the folks in Cincinnati, whose huge Music Hall has someone in each of its 3,417 seats when Lang Lang plays.

“It’s amazing how energized the crowd is as they’re coming in. There’s so much buzz in the air. And he just delivers every time,” says Chris Pinelo, vice president of communications of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, where Lang Lang has been serving as creative director for the 2011–’12 season Ascent Series. “There’s a lot of movement through his entire body, and you can tell he’s pouring his heart and soul into that performance. People respond to that.”

On May 17, Lang Lang returns to the Knight Concert Hall at The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts—a stage he graced to rave reviews in 2010. He’ll play music of J.S. Bach (the Partita No. 1 in B-flat major), the huge final sonata (in B-flat major) of Franz Schubert, and the 12 études (or studies) in the Opus 25 collection of Frédéric Chopin.

It’s a serious, weighty program for a career that’s come a long way from Lang Lang’s prodigy days in Shenyang in northeastern China, where he began playing the piano at age three and won his first competition at five. In his autobiography, Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story, Lang Lang recounts the sometimes- harrowing pressure from his father to “be Number One,” which led to rocky confrontations between the two. Not that Lang Lang is complaining now. “Being strict doesn’t mean there is no inner warmth,” he says. “My father helped and supported me a lot when I was a child, in study and everyday life. I play the piano because I like music and had my own motivation to practice. It is useless to push if a child doesn’t have any interest in music.” An energetic participant in good works (he’s a Unicef goodwill ambassador; earthquake relief) and educational outreach, he opened the first Lang Lang Music World school in Shenzhen, China, earlier this year. He hopes this effort will “enlarge the population of classical music learners and listeners in the next generation.”

Lang Lang turns 30 on June 14, but “I don’t even have time to look back!” he says. Now based in New York, he pursues a very busy life doing the thing he loves most, in which one constant remains: “The passion and drive to play the piano have never changed.” Lang Lang performs at 8 PM Thursday, May 17, at the Knight Concert Hall in Miami. Tickets range from $50–$125. Call 305-949-6722

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