It is astounding that at just twenty-four years of age, Yundi Li has garnered the type of press and accolades that artists of any genre work their entire lives to receive, through astounding performances that exude the intoxicating confidence normally associated with musicians more than twice his age. Yundi Li has no problem owning the title “Prince of the Piano” bestowed upon him by fans, based on his elegance while playing, his masterful interpretations, and his youthful desire to continue to challenge himself and his repertoire. As the editor of Gramophone has stated, “You will search far and wide to hear a more swashbuckling yet precisely controlled Liszt, and if artists of any older generation offered a more courtly and benign, more memorable Chopin, they hardly equal Li’s outward paragon.”
In February 2007, Yundi released his fifth recording, Liszt’s and Chopin’s First Piano Concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. The recording was an unequivocal succès d’estime, receiving immense critical acclaim. Geoff Brown, of the London Times, comments that “this disc of Liszt and Chopin’s first piano concertos gives ample proof that virtuosity needn’t be empty-headed or lit by candelabras. This would rate an unqualified A grade.…Yundi Li already knows how to be subtle even when loud (crucial in Liszt). And when he’s restrained he glows with banked fires: sample here the stretches of dreamy poetry towards the end of Chopin’s monster first movement. Yundi Li is never reckless; there’s always an artist in firm control, sculpting both tone and phrasing.” This recording stands apart from the music of his contemporaries, and critics consistently marvel at the young musician’s unwavering artistic integrity. He favors substance over style, and yet he never lets the audience forget that they are still witnessing an artist at the beginning of a remarkable career, where every year brings the opportunity for fresh interpretations.
Yundi’s musical career began with the accordion at the age of 4. His prodigious talent was recognized only one year later, when he won the top prize at the Chongqing Children’s Accordion Competition. At the age of 7, under the tutelage of renowned pianist Dan Zhao Yi, Yundi began his journey to greatness on the piano. At the age of 18, Yundi burst onto the European scene, claiming First Prize at the 14th International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Yundi was the youngest winner in the competition's history. One year later, Yundi signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, providing him the opportunity to embark on a recital tour throughout North America and Europe. His subsequent rise to international acclaim and his succession of high-profile international performances have made him a hero back in China, where secondary school children now study Yundi’s success story, with the hopes that one day they too will be able to make their dreams come true.
Yundi’s determination to succeed is formidable, and his list of triumphs beyond impressive for an artist of his age. As Anthony Tomassini of the New York Timesrecently observed, “With four Deutsche Grammophon recordings already to his credit and an ardent following smitten with his boyish appeal, this brilliantly talented virtuoso is off to a quick start.” In 2003, Yundi captivated audiences with his American debut of Chopin’s Concerto No. 1, performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Yundi subsequently performed Grieg’s Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony, with Paavo Järvi in Berlin, and with the NHK Symphony in Japan. He toured throughout Germany with the Moscow Philharmonic and Yuri Simonow, as well as with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Among his many other accomplishments are recitals in Prague, Paris, Verbier and Mallorca. He also debuted at Carnegie Hall and at the Salzburg Festival playing Chopin and Liszt. The Chinese Ambassador honored Yundi with a special reception at his home in Washington, D.C.
Last year, the Prince of the Piano toured the world, performing in the most prestigious venues in collaboration with the world’s most esteemed musicians. His performance achievements included concerts with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in Hong Kong, and with the London Symphony Orchestra in the Barbican Centre, London and in Seoul, South Korea. He also made his Israeli debut, playing with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the renowned Gustavo Dudamel. He performed in Spoleto, Italy, and with the Wiener Symphoniker in both Vienna’s Musikverein and in Japan. In addition, Yundi collaborated with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra in Zurich’s Tonhalle. Yundi also played a series of recitals throughout the United States (including New York’s Carnegie Hall), and he captivated audiences in Canada, Germany, London (at Queen Elizabeth Hall), Paris (at Théâtre du Châtelet), Finland, Denmark and Luxemburg. Finally, Yundi returned to his homeland, and completed an extensive tour of his native China.
Yundi’s talents as a pianist have now transcended the classical world. He has just been appointed the image ambassador for the hyper-popular Chinese version of “American Idol,” which reaches a mass audience, and he has even become the spokesperson for brands that he enjoys. The future is very bright for this accomplished pianist, and he is about to embark on his next career challenge. This May, Yundi will join forces with the Berlin Philharmonic and Maestro Seiji Ozawa to record Prokofiev’s second concerto and Ravel’s concerto in G major; a highly anticipated event, and an exciting next step for the Prince of the Piano. Throughout the world, Yundi has left his critics and fans delighted and inspired by his abilities and promise; it will be exciting to continue to follow the journey of this young musical superstar.