Lang Lang is one of the hottest classical pianists in the world today. This week the Kennedy Center welcomes his residency, a unique opportunity for audiences to experience his talent and personality in six memorable performances. He comes at the invitation of his mentor and close friend, National Symphony Orchestra Music Director Christoph Eschenbach, who discovered the gifted in 1999.

"I found a paper on my desk from a young man who wanted an audition," Eschenbach said. "I had no idea who he was, but I'm always interested in young musicians and try to find time for them. At our meeting, he gave me a long list of repertoire, so I chose a Haydn sonata, which is always a key to musicality. He played it beautifully. Next, I asked for a Brahms intermezzo. He played it with profound feeling. I was stunned and kept asking for more.

"An hour and a half passed before I realized that I was late for a rehearsal with a singer. I ran out the door and hit her in the face because she had been listening there. Before Lang Lang left the premises I got the executive director of Ravinia and Isaac Stern to hear him. It took all of two hours. The next day, Andre Watts canceled the gala, so I said, 'Why don't we have the Chinese boy play?' He had played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto for me, so I knew he could do it. He came, played, and won over the audience and musicians, Isaac Stern and me,"

Since that auspicious start to Lang Lang's professional career, Eschenbach and the pianist have become close friend. They work together frequently. During the residency, they will connect on stage for three concerts with the orchestra and a joint recital of works for four hands by Mozart and Schubert. Eschenbach began his career as a young pianist, winning many awards. Today, he enjoys the opportunity to revisit the keyboard whenever possible.

Pianist Lang Lang
Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F Street NW
When: Joint recital with Christoph Eschenbach in works for four hands, 8 p.m. Wednesday; $10 to $64 Soloist with the NSO in three Beethoven Concertos; 7 p.m. Thur., 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; $10 to $85; 101 Pianists, 4 p.m. Saturday, $15 to $18
Info: 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324;

"This is the first recital Lang Lang and I have performed together, although we have sometimes played works for four hands as encores," Eschenbach said. "It's always fun for me to keep a bit of my piano playing active."

His joint recital with Eschenbach on Wednesday is followed by three NSO concerts that open with "Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche" (Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks) by Richard Strauss and conclude with Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 in D minor. Rather than perform a single work, Lang Lang has chosen a different Beethoven Piano Concerto for each concert, No. 2 on Thursday, No. 3 on Friday and No. 5 ("Emperor") on Saturday.