Critics love a prodigy, but 17-year-old Chinese pianist Lang Lang–pronounced “lung lung”–has provoked a media buzz I haven’t seen the likes of since Evgeny Kissin emerged as a teenage phenom in the late 80s. Further comparisons to Kissin are inevitable: both have been trained in the Soviet style, which stresses precision and grand, melodramatic gestures, and both specialize in the core of the Romantic repertoire, including Chopin, Schumann, and the Russians. Over the last ten years, of course, Kissin has matured into one of the finest pianists of our time, and there’s no reason to expect Lang Lang won’t follow suit. He started playing at age three in his hometown of Shenyang, in northeast China, entered the Central Music Conservatory in Beijing at ten, and in 1997 came to the States to study at the Curtis Institute with Gary Graffman, himself a prodigy in the 1940s. He’s already soloed with a long list of orchestras, including outfits in Baltimore, Houston, Hong Kong, Moscow, and Sendai, Japan. His Chicago debut was last summer, at Ravinia’s gala, where he stepped in at the last minute for an ailing Andre Watts; his apparently extraordinary performance of the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto caused the Tribune’s John von Rhein to proclaim the arrival of a major talent. Lang Lang returned to Chicago in March, this time as a sub for Richard Goode at Symphony Center; he demonstrated formidable agility and accuracy and, even more impressive, a deep empathy for the Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Balakirev, and Rachmaninoff on the program–precious few players so young can persuade an audience that they have a grasp of the emotions those pieces express. At this Saturday’s concert Lang Lang will perform Rachmaninoff’s fiendishly difficult Third Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He shares the bill with 20-year-old Elisabeth Batiashvili, playing Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, and 24-year-old Claudio Bohorquez in Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. Christoph Eschenbach conducts. Saturday, 8 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Don Hunstein.