While most teenagers this time of the year are doing sports, camps, or finding jobs to please their wallets (or their parents), one American teenager is doing what very few others in the world his age have done: compete in two of the biggest piano competitions in the world, in the same year!
This young man’s name is George Li, and he has a gift that many attempt to gain in their lifetime, but very few obtain. He is a concert pianist at the highest level, playing all over the world and slowly becoming a household name for classical musicians.
Last month, Mr. George Li performed in the 15th Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. He wowed both the live audience and live stream viewers with his incredible stage presence, sophisticated and difficult repertoire, dazzling virtuosity, and something that I personally have not heard except by the mega artists of the piano world: fresh interpretations. While watching the competition live on medici.tv, I have never seen a pianist with such natural ability at the instrument. Li has somehow found the balance of dazzling technical virtuosity with the mature, sublime, musical colors that must have developed only through years and years of musical growth.
Li, like any typical American boy who enjoyed piano, began lessons at an early age. What made him different though from the normal child that practices piano is that, instead of practicing 30 minutes a week, George Li practiced 30 + HOURS per week. Li fell in love with the instrument and made it his career goal to become a concert pianist as early as nine years old. Between the ages of 9 and 19 (his current age), George has done many extraordinary things and has been practicing his craft diligently for those ten years. He has learned and performed many of the most difficult piano repertoire, won many reputable piano competitions (including the Grand Prix Animato in Paris last year), as well as gained connections with some of the most famous celebrities and dignitaries in the world. Performing on the Martha Stewart Show and Carnegie Hall by age 11, and as well as performing for President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel isn’t too shabby!
Now, many of you may wonder, how could anyone possibly compare to Van Cliburn?
For those who don’t know, Van Cliburn is arguably the most celebrated American classical pianist. At the height of the Cold War, Van Cliburn won the inaugural Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1958. His victory was hailed by the United States and they immediately placed Cliburn on a pedestal of ‘American heroes’. He was even labeled by Time Magazine as ‘The Texan That Conquered Russia’! This gave Cliburn the superstar career very few classical musicians could obtain. His good looks, vibrant yet humble personality, and his non-stop dedication to the music that he produced made him a legend of the classical music world as well as making him an American musical icon.
I believe that George Li could very well be placed in this category of fame if he takes advantage to the fullest the opportunities that have been given to him. Taking the silver medal at this year’s Tchaikovsky Competition is an incredible feat to do for someone as young as he is. His past career accomplishments have also added to his potential as a famous performing artist.
Li’s future is also looking very bright as well. George has just finished showing off his artistic talents and knowledge at the Verbier Music Festival in Switzerland which is considered one of the most famous classical music festivals in the world. Li also has the opportunity to stun the world in October when he will compete in the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland. If Li were to win this competition, this would almost undoubtedly give him immediate long term success as a concert pianist, and also give him immediate artistic influence wherever he chooses to go.
However, in order for George Li to become a legendary symbol of the classical music world, similar to that of Van Cliburn, I believe that he will have to shock the world on Van Cliburn’s own turf. What I am talking about is participating and possibly winning, the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition located in Fort Worth, Texas. This competition is possibly the most famous and publicized piano competition in the world and draws the best talent from across the globe. If he were to win this competition, and along with his previous accomplishments, George Li will become an elite star performer for the rest of his life.
To conclude this ‘little blog’, if Li plays his cards right and uses his intellect to guide him not only musically, but also in the art of creating gigs in the music business world, I think that he could become a celebrated musician at the same height as Van Cliburn was to the American people 50 years ago.