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Piano superstar Lang Lang reveals early struggles

By Olivia Sterns for CNN
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Lang Lang opens up about the complicated relationship he has with his father
  • Lang Lang started playing with two hands at the age of three
  • Lang Lang's father was strict with his son, pressuring him to succeed
  • At age nine, Lang Lang moved to Beijing to pursue a professional career
  • China
  • Classical Music
  • Music

London, England (CNN) -- Chinese pianist Lang Lang was born and bred to be a classical music star.

A product of China's One Child Policy, Lang Lang's music-obsessed parents projected their own dreams of greatness onto their young son, overseeing a rigorous rehearsal regimen from a very early age.

Even before he was old enough to play, the couple dipped into their savings to buy Lang Lang a piano. By the age of three, he was already taking lessons from his father -- who had tried and failed at a music career of his own.

"As Chinese parents, we have high expectations of our child," Lang Lang's mother told CNN. "We had our own ideas and plans when we brought him up."

As Chinese parents, we have high expectations of our child ... We had our own ideas and plans when we brought him up.
--Lang Lang's mother

At age nine, Lang Lang moved with his father to Beijing to pursue a professional career, leaving his mother at home to earn enough money for all three.

"In the beginning it worked very well, when I was a kid, but then I would say we had a really complicated time because [my father's] dream in me became too big," Lang Lang told CNN.

The worst time came when Lang Lang was inexplicably expelled from music school.

His father flew into a rage and told his son he should end his life by jumping off a building. Lang Lang describes it as a terrible time.

His father says he was applying pressure to the young musician to make him stronger.

Gallery: Lang Lang: A Prodigy's Childhood

"The way I see it, pressure always turned into motivation ... pressure always end[s] up as power," he told CNN.

Lang Lang's big break came at age 17, when he was a last-minute substitute at the "Gala of the Century," playing a Tchaikovsky concerto with the Chicago Symphony.

"Neither Lang Lang [nor] I ever stopped trying to be the best ... If he fails to be outstanding at playing the piano, he has nothing ... So he always takes it very seriously and he never stops learning."

"Most young people can not be as focus[ed] as him," Lang Lang's mother said.

"Lang Lang is lively, energetic and passionate. In this regard, he resembles me. However, he's quite mature when he considers things and handles issues. At this point, he resembles his father."

"His success is my reward and my pride," she said.

Today the family of three travel together on Lang Lang's tours, all continuing to promote his larger-than-life career full-time.

CNN's Rosie Tomkins contributed to this report