As a child, he scarcely imagined that he would ever get the chance to ride in a car. Now a piano virtuoso, Lang Lang shares his Chinese compatriots’ great passion for automobiles. Fully in control of the Audi R8’s powerful engine, he enjoys his drive through the booming southern Chinese metropolis that is Guangzhou.
Last night’s concert was a long, triumphant affair featuring works by George Gershwin and Chinese composer Yin Chengzong, standing ovations and two encores. It is now late the following morning, and Lang Lang – world-class pianist and China’s international superstar – has a little time to himself. Time to relax. Time to take a drive through Guangzhou, home to over seven million registered inhabitants and one of the country’s largest megacities.
CITY DRIVING AT ITS FINEST
“I love driving,” says Lang Lang, “there’s nothing like sitting at the wheel of a great car.” Small wonder, then, that Lang Lang’s favorite is a thoroughbred sports car: the Audi R81. “The R8 is fantastic, young and fast,” enthuses the pianist. Even at the wheel of a car, the musician in him comes to the fore: “The sound is unbelievable. Not to mention the way it moves.” With undisguised pleasure, he drives through downtown Guangzhou, gliding past futuristic glass towers, shopping boulevards and the elegant television tower, the highest in the world at 610 meters and the new symbol of the city on the Pearl River. “Over ten years ago, when I was playing my first concerts in Guangzhou, none of this was here,” recalls Lang Lang.
Guangzhou, capital of the Guangdong province and the most important transportation hub in southern China, has established a reputation as the “factory of the world.” Southern China is seen as a growth engine – not least for the automotive industry. The Volkswagen Group is planning a new production facility not far from Guangzhou that is set to employ some 4,000 people starting in 2013. Many young people flock to Guangzhou, drawn by the modern feel of the city and its proximity to Hong Kong and Macau. The pace of China’s development, epitomized perfectly by this city, is unique worldwide and yet is seen by its young people as part of normal everyday life. “For my generation, this dynamic growth belongs to our way of life,” says 28-year-old Lang Lang.
Rather cautiously, he steps on the gas pedal. The Audi R8 accelerates to 100 kilometers per hour in 4.6 seconds. And can go all the way up to 300 and beyond. However, speed is not the only factor that sets the pulse of Chinese car enthusiasts racing – they are also technology-mad. The top performance of Audi’s super sports car is attributable, among other things, to the Audi Space Frame (ASF) design – an extremely light yet very stable structure that is made of aluminum profiles and supports the aluminum body parts. Weighing in at just 1,560 kilograms, the R8 is a lightweight superstar in its class.