Pianist Yundi Li defends why classical music isn't boring

Pianist Yundi Li defends why classical music isn't boring

Pianist Yundi Li says anyone can enjoy classical music - as long as you give it a fair chance

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Yundi Li has performed around the world, but loves nothing more than playing in China.
Yundi Li has performed around the world, but loves nothing more than playing in China.
Photo: Jonathan Wong

Forget about Team Edward or Team Jacob. Are you Team Lang or Team Li? Two of the world's most famous classical pianists, Lang Lang and Yundi Li, are set to perform separate concerts in Hong Kong next month.

While Lang is known for his flamboyant performances, Li, 32, is a little more reserved. Not that it will stop him putting on another great show when his Emperor Fantasy World Tour arrives at the Hong Kong Coliseum on December 13.

Li is used to performing in large venues in front of thousands of people, so Hong Kong's home of pop music won't intimidate him.

It's not the first time Li has performed in a stadium. He has played on New Year's Eve at Beijing's Workers' Stadium for the past three years. He says the audio and visual arrangements make performing in a stadium very different from performing in a concert hall.

"It's a challenge to classical music … but it helps audiences who are not as familiar with classical music to ease in," says Li.

Li is keen to bring classical music to younger fans. He believes a show at the Coliseum could be a stepping stone for those curious to find out more about this type of music.

"Hopefully once they get to know classical music, they will go to concert halls to appreciate classical music in the more traditional way," he says.

As one of the world's most popular classical musicians, Li sees it as his responsibility to represent his art.

He believes classical music holds more depth and meaning than a typical three-minute pop song.

"Classical music is instructive. Though it's never trending, it has been around through the centuries. It's a learning process. It takes time and education to learn to appreciate classical music," says Li, who has been playing piano since he was just seven years old.

"I want to share my understanding and my feeling of music. I hope more and more people will understand the charm and fun of classical music."

The start wasn't easy for Li, though. When the then-piano prodigy first decided to become a professional musician, his own grandfather was against the idea. "I was born into a family of educators. They valued my education very highly, in a traditional way," he says.

His grandfather did not consider music to be a respectable career. His family would rather have seen Li study at a top university. But this didn't stop the "prince of piano".

He left his home city of Chongqing in 1995 and moved to Shenzhen to study at an arts school. From there he began to study, perform and compete all over the world.

He won the International Chopin Piano Competition at the age of 18 and has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and Wiener Musikverein in Vienna, Austria. But Li says there is something even more special about performing in concert halls back home in China.

"I find it terrific that there are decent concert halls in China now, and many youngsters go to enjoy the music. That's why I'd love to spend time supporting classical music in China."

The next step in Li's mission will be his Hong Kong show. When he lived in Shenzhen, he got to know the city well.

"I have witnessed Hong Kong's change over the past decade … the audience for classical music has increased."

And that crowd will be out in force at the Coliseum. They can expect to see him perform his favourite pieces from Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt and his musical idol, Chopin.

"Wherever I play, I always hope to perform the best of classical music," he says.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Music for the masses

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