Meet Superstar Yundi at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge

Credit: Chen Man Mercury Classics
Credit: Chen Man
Mercury Classics

The life of a core-classical pianist does not usually involve hordes of screaming fans or mass stampedes, yet over the last few years such scenes have become ordinary occurrences when Chinese pianist YUNDI performs in his homeland. Celebrated for over a decade in both the East and West for his accounts of Chopin and Beethoven, YUNDI has recently developed an astonishing profile in the People’s Republic comparable to that of a major rock star.

His Chinese fans have also recently started to travel en masse to his European concerts, and to demonstrate their admiration with equal fervour. With the release of his latest recording of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with conductor Daniel Harding and the Berlin Philharmonic, and a 24-city European tour to support it, the excitement has grown even more intense.

The statistics are impressive. Take the example of his domination of the 2013 recorded music market in China: in the classical top 15 STARSING sales chart for the year, 11 of the albums are his. His latest recording of Beethoven sonatas went Platinum. Such success by a single artist is unprecedented, not only in the classical sphere but in the entire Chinese music market. Or take the audience of one billion who witnessed his performance on the Spring Gala broadcast on Chinese public television. Or take his 2013 Dream China Tour, the largest classical tour in the country’s history, which encompassed 33 cities and reached a total audience of 50,000 music-lovers. Or even – to strike a more populist note – take his 14.5 million followers on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) and his status as one of the top ten celebrities discussed on the service. He has performed with Kylie Minogue too. It’s little surprise that CNN dubbed YUNDI ‘the classical pianist with the rock star following.’

Yundi_Beethoven-Schumann_CM_6349 copy
Credit: Chen Man
Mercury Classics

These figures would mean little were it not for the solid bedrock of talent and artistry upon which they are founded. YUNDI gained first place at the 14th International Chopin Competition in 2000 (at 18, he was the youngest ever pianist, and also the first Chinese musician, to win) and since then his remarkable talent has been acclaimed the world over. His previous recording with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2007 (of piano concertos by Prokofiev and Ravel) was named ‘Editor’s Choice’ in Gramophone Magazine, and his 2013 album of Beethoven sonatas was chosen as one of Classic FM’s ‘Albums of the Year.’ Of the same album, the major classical site Sinfini wrote that ‘the colours are orchestral, the drama operatic.’

YUNDI was born in Chongqing, in the province of Sichuan, in 1982. After winning several prizes as a child for his accordion playing, he switched to the piano at seven, and subsequently trained at the Shenzhen Arts School. He later studied with the acclaimed Israeli pianist Arie Vardi at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover.

The Beethoven Concerto album is YUNDI’s thirteenth, and marks his second recording with the Berlin Philharmonic. It also includes a performance of a major solo work, Schumann’s Fantasie in C, which YUNDI will tour throughout Europe from February to April, 2014.

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