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Chopin 200 Years On> Archive
UPDATED: May 18, 2010 NO. 47 NOVEMBER 20, 2000
Chinese Teen Wins Chopin Piano Competition

Li Yundi, an 18-year-old from the southern coastal city of Shenzhen, won first prize at the 14th Chopin Piano Competition in Poland. The competition, which ended on October 20, marked the first time a Chinese pianist had won the top piano competition in the world.

Chen Sa, a 21-year-old woman also from Shenzhen, finished fourth. Prior to this year, the highest finish by a Chinese pianist was Pu Chong's third in 1955.

One of the most important contests in the world, the Chopin Competition, launched in 1927, is held every five years. In the last two competitions, no one was awarded first prize, so Li is the first winner in 15 years. Records before World War II have been lost, but the sponsors confirmed Li is the youngest winner since the war, if not the youngest winner in history.

Opening on October 4, the competition lasted two weeks, with 98 players from 25 countries and regions taking part. On the evening of October 19, Li Yundi, working in cooperation with the Polish National Orchestra, played Chopin's Piano Concerto in E Minor at the Warsaw National Concert Hall. He conquered all 23 adjudicators and the audience. They gave him a unanimous standing ovation after he ended his performance. The Polish adjudicator, Edward Auer, said that the performance was outstanding, and that Li was not the type of pianist some people liked and some disliked, but one who has won over everyone.

Aware of his success, the longhaired youngster said calmly, "I think the Chinese have a better understanding of Chopin's works. The poetic emotion in Chopin's works is somehow related to ancient Chinese poems."

He added: "My success testifies to the high level of piano education in China."

Besides his first prize in the overall competition, Li also was named the best player of the polonaise.

Jan Popis, a critic invited by the sponsors, said Chinese pianists played wonderfully and their music impressed the audience like great masters. Li attracted an audience while he practiced before the formal competition and then proved to be the most poetic and mature pianist. His skills created a beautiful poetic and lively tune. Popis noted that in 1955, the magical Pu Chong had enchanted the audience; now he has his successor.

Li Yundi and Chen Sa are students at the Shenzhen Art School, and their teacher is the famous piano educator Dan Zhaoyi. Now in his third year of senior middle school, Li Yundi passed his 18th birthday on October 7. He began learning accordion at the age of four, and then turned to piano at seven. Dan Zhaoyi said Li had a great musical talent, and has studied hard. At 13, he won a top music prize at a competition in the United States. Last year, he captured prizes at three piano competetions held in the Netherlands, the United States and China. Chen Sa came fourth at Britain's Leeds International Piano Competition. In 1997, she went to study in Britain.

Li Yundi won an award of $25,000 in Warsaw. But he treasures more the opportunities to collaborate with world famous orchestras. Previous champions of the Chopin Competition, like American Garrick Ohlsson in 1970, Pole Krystian Zimmerman in 1975 and Russian Stanislav Bunin 15 years ago, have all become world famous masters.

But Li said "I am too young and I need to complete a lot of work to become a great pianist. So many young pianists have disappeared after they won the prizes. I will be more prudent so that such things won't happen to me."

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