Chinese virtuoso Yundi solos with San Francisco Symphony 

Another world-class musician — among an amazing run of young superstar virtuosos from China — is coming to  The City.  

Yundi, the winner of the Chopin International Piano Competition in 2000 at age 18, appears with the San Francisco Symphony today in a program led by conductor laureate Herbert Blomstedt, the orchestra’s music director from 1985-95.

Yundi (born Yundi Li, but now following the single-named star vogue) is called the “Prince of Piano” in his country, where he is placed along with Yuja Wang and Lang Lang at the top of the hit parade.

His musical career began with the accordion at age 4, and in 1987 he won first prize at the Chongqing Children’s Accordion Competition. At 7, he took up piano and began studies with one of China’s most renowned teachers.

From then on, he had ambitions of becoming a professional pianist — and in a few years he accomplished his goal.

Winning the Chopin prize was a particularly notable achievement in that strict judges of the Warsaw, Poland-based annual competition went 15 years without giving out first-place honors until his victory. He was acclaimed by a panel of 23 judges, which included Martha Argerich, who won the competition in 1965.

His previous performances with the San Francisco Symphony were in  2004 and 2007.

Yundi’s ninth EMI Classics CD, an all-Chopin disc released earlier this month, got a rave review in The New York Times in which he was described as a “stunningly talented and promising pianist.” His disc of Prokofiev and Ravel piano concertos prompted The Times of London to call him a “pianist who has something beyond the dazzle of any new star.”

Last year, on the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, the Polish government presented Yundi with the Gloria Artis Gold Medal for Merit to Culture, in recognition of his frequent and acclaimed performances of Chopin’s works and his contribution to Polish culture.

A Chopin piece might be a possible encore at Davies Hall this week, but is not on the program, which includes Tchaikovsky’s popular 1875 First Piano Concerto. The concert also features Sibelius’ 1902 Symphony No. 2, a dramatic, innovative work that still challenges audiences a century after its introduction.

Yundi is on a list of esteemed, young and experienced major musicians from China — including Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, Haochen Zhang, Sa Chen, Yingdi Sun, Jue Wang, Zuo Zhang and Di Wu — who made their mark in their early teens and are continuing to enjoy steady international acclaim in their 20s.  

The phenomenon might be best explained by numbers and priorities in China, where there are 30 million piano students and 10 million violin students. The country produces 70 percent of the world’s violins and 76 percent of pianos.

Music schools and conservatories are bulging at the seams in China (and in Japan and Korea), while the lack of music education in American public schools for two generations has left orchestras and opera houses struggling to fill halls — and put an end to U.S. hegemony of music stars. The great surge of pianists from Russia 20 years ago also has ebbed.


San Francisco Symphony

Led by Herbert Blomstedt, with soloist Yundi

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday; 2 p.m. Thursday; 6:30 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $15 to $140

Contact: (415) 864-6000,

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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