Future dazzling for 'Chinese Chopin,'18
Bella Davidovich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Adam Harasiewicz, Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Garrick Ohlsson, Krystian Zimerman, Stanislav Bunin. These are some of the past winners of the prestigious Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition, held every five years in Warsaw. The Chopin competition is devoted to music by this demanding composer, and standards are intimidatingly high. In fact, the judges had not awarded a first prize winner since 1985.
The pianist to break this dry spell was Yundi Li, an 18-year-old from China. In October 2000, Yundi Li became the youngest person ever to win the first prize of the Chopin competition. He won with a unanimous vote from the jury and received the $25,000 prize money.
Recorded last September under an exclusive contract signed just after the Chopin competition, Mr. Li's debut album (all Chopin, of course) includes Piano Sonata No. 3, "Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante," Etudes No. 2 and 5, an Impromptu and Nocturnes No. 1 and 2. The album will go on sale in Korea in March.
An amazing 500,000 copies of his album were sold on the release day alone in Hong Kong, and 1 million copies were sold within 10 days after that. Sales in Taiwan and China are also strong, and 150,000 copies were sold in Japan in just the first month. Mr. Li's face graces the buildings and streets of downtown Hong Kong, and newspapers and magazines fill their pages with endless articles about the young sensation. He even models for Hong Kong Telecom.
Born in Chongqing, in China's Sichuan province, Mr. Li picked up music from a young age. He began taking accordion lessons at the age of 4 and switched to piano three years later. His parents had to spend all their savings to buy him an upright piano. His teacher was Dan Zhaoyi, who had taught himself to play the piano during the Cultural Revolution. When Mr. Dan moved to the School of Arts in Shenzhen, Yundi's father took a job in a steel factory in Guangzhou so that Yundi could follow his teacher. The School of Arts, where Mr. Li is still enrolled, has offered him a professorship and an opportunity to study abroad. All the prestigious European music academies have sent him invitations but he is considering studying at Hanover Music Academy in Germany.
Mr. Li, who also won the prize for the best performance of a polonaise at the Chopin competition, has won additional prizes at the Stravinsky Competition in 1994, the Franz Liszt Competition held in the Netherlands in 1999, and the Gina Bachauer Competition in 2000. He is the second Chinese person to win a prize in the Chopin competition (Fu Ts'Ong won third prize in 1955), and the second Asian to take first place, following Dang Thai Son of Vietnam in 1980.
He recently announced that he will not take part in any more competitions now that he has won the Chopin competition. In addition to Chopin, some of the composers he likes are Liszt, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Ravel and Prokofiev. The pianists he admires most are Arthur Rubinstein, Krystian Zimerman and Maurizio Pollini.
by Lee Jang-jik