The internationally renowned pianist is classical music's main man

Updated November 04, 2015 01:00 PM
Credit: Yann Orhan

When it comes to expertly tickling the ivories, Chinese pianist Lang Lang‘s your man.

The 33-year-old musician, whose new album Lang Lang in Paris was just released, hails from Shenyang, where he showed so much promise at age 2 his parents saved half a year’s salary to buy him his own piano.

“When I was 5 I had my first recital,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I was so nervous the night before I went to the bathroom about 20 times! But then on stage I felt so comfortable. From then on I made it my dream to be a pianist.”

Now a renowned international pianist previously named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, he’s got three Grammy performances under his belt and has collaborated with stars John Legend and Pharrell Williams among others. It’s pretty clear his dream has more than come true.

“I love the Grammys,” says Lang. “It’s a stage where you work with different musicians and genres and get to see the possibilities. Music is like language. It doesn’t really matter the rhythm or style. In the end we all try to touch people’s hearts.”

Hoping to touch even more lives, he runs The Lang Lang International Music Foundation, which helps fund children’s music programs around the world. Most recently his Keys of Inspiration program in American public schools expanded to include Public School 13 in Brooklyn, New York.

“We’re trying to bring music to everybody,” he says of the foundation, which has raised nearly $8 million for programs. “Kids who were not behaving in class are behaving now. The schoolmaster in Brooklyn cried because her most difficult kid is so engaged now in piano lab. The kids are so happy.”

While jetting around the country from one high-profile performance to the next, Lang’s happy to break down classical music stereotypes. “We’re not all 90-year-old dinosaurs,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a crazy busy life, but it’s worth it.”

For more about Lang Lang, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday