Our man on the spot in Beijing is taking part in an exclusive, festive ceremony as these lines are being written. It’s the signing of a contract between Deutsche Grammophon, the classical market leader, and Yundi Li, the Chopin Competition winner of 2000.
Yundi was kicked off the label in 2009 at the hard-headed demand of his mortal rival Lang Lang. There was, said Lang Lang’s negotiator, only room for one Chinese pianist on the yellow river – sorry, the yellow label.
Yundi was driven, like the Biblical Hagar, into the desert that is EMI Classics. He struggled, he floundered, he sold very few records in the West. Then, in 2010, Lang Lang walked out on DG complaining that he could not communicate with its boss at the time, the inconveniently named Michael Lang. For a $3 million golden handshake, Lang Lang signed for Sony, a conglomerate which has bigger and more crucial interests in China than DG’s parent Universal.
Yundi, however, did not let sleeping dogs lie. Back home in China, he just got bigger and bigger – ‘very self-confident, a big macher’, says our source on the spot, in slightly imperfect Mandarin*.
So, today, Yundi will put his name on a piece of paper and rejoin DG in a power shift of considerable proportions. DG also has Yuja Wang, short-skirted and increasingly popular. In the world’s fastest growing classical market, Lang Lang now faces two guns, not one. High noon cannot be far off.
* macher = Yiddish for big shot. Used in the music biz to indicate anyone with power.