Haylie Ecker, a London-trained violinist who played in the Bond quartet, has just got caught up in Yundi Li’s China Dream tour. Here is her report, front and back stage, exclusive to Slipped Disc.
Diagnosed as ‘Piano Fever’, taking China by storm, over 40 million Chinese children are learning to play the piano. Some suspect the number is as high as 80 million. Professor Liang Maochun of Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music says, “The ‘fever’ is not just hitting Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai, it’s even in smaller cities and towns. Families who can afford a piano will buy one.”
The two big cats, Lang Lang and Yundi, are rock stars to the Chinese youth, giving the piano a properly hip and aspirational image. Lang Lang boasts lucrative endorsements for Adidas shoes and has branded his own line of Lang Lang Steinway baby grand pianos. Sichuan-born Yundi advertises for Rolex, collaborates with pop stars, and is the “image ambassador” to Super Boys – China’s answer to Pop Idol with a viewership of around one billion. Yundi says, “They want to hold me up as an example of what Chinese children can achieve, so I play for them, to show that the dream is not so far off. With talent and hard work, your dream can come true. “
Last night, Yundi performed his CHINA Dream Tour concert at HK Cultural Centre’s Concert Hall. The concert was sponsored by the new coconut water drink JAX COCO, a fashionable brand who also sponsor the likes of Elton John and Ibiza’s iconic Pacha. We arrived at the venue an hour before Yundi’s concert for an exclusive JAX COCO cocktail party, for highly ranked Chinese Government Officials and Chinese A-List movie stars. It was supremely difficult to get through the crowds.
The entire HK Cultural Centre’s foyer space, staircases included, was heaving with Chinese mainland families. The atmosphere was tangibly thick with excitement. From collective chattering of which I was only able to decipher buzz words like “Yundi” and “Jax Coco” thick with Chinese accent, to mayhem for hundreds of people to get a photo next to one of many billboard size images of Yundi in the foyer spaces?! It was pure craziness. I looked at my husband…. we were first-hand experiencing “piano fever” and it was electric!
Yundi’s CHINA DREAM is also sponsored by YMCA China, raising money for his home province of Sichuan, which has experienced multiple natural disasters since 2008. The money raised by donation ticket-sales from Yundi’s concert provide funds for work in Sichuan. No less impressively, donations from “CHINA DREAM’ provided hundreds of free tickets to low-income families who were able to enjoy the performance of a world-class musician, encouraging these children not to give up pursuing their ideals due to financial difficulties. This altruistic endeavour created a vibe in the hall that I find hard to put into words. I felt like we were a part of a very special night with a performance that reached straight to the core. From the moment Yundi walked on to stage, he was awe-inspiring. And I felt like life memories were being made, never to be forgotten. I looked around and thought, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Yundi or Lang Lang was sitting metres from me.
Yundi’s repertoire was highbrow and his whole being was serious. He played a few Chopin Polonaises and three Beethoven Sonatas: The Appassionata, The Moonlight, and The Pathetique. We first saw him walk on stage with a regal gate only stopping at his Steinway to solemnly look at his audience with a piercing gaze, to then sit at a lone piano on a huge empty stage surrounded by 2019 seats, to then play the most pure, unaffected and polished interpretations. There was no unnecessary flicking of the hair or swaying gestures at his stool. He was technically glistening perfection with interpretations so rich in depth I drifted off to another world. It was a performance we in The Western World would assume to be inaccessible to the masses, but Yundi walked off stage to the most rapturous applause I’d imagine Liszt would’ve received in a bygone era. The icing on top of the cake came later…. After briefly chatting to him backstage, he along with his parents, humbly slipped into a stealth blacked-out people-carrier hidden away indoors, and as the garage doors opened, we could hear screaming fans of children more One Direction than classical. It was all around exciting music to my ears.
Having spent a decade in Bond pondering, “Where is the future of classical music?” after last night, I think it’s in China. I atmospherically tapped into what felt like a ferocious hunger for culture. The audience was more youth than aged, and they appeared to be hanging off of Yundi’s every musical turn of phrase. It was what I’ve read about as “Piano Fever” and it was contagious! Except it’s supposed to be his CHINA DREAM tour.