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Wednesday November 19 2008

The Chinese pianist Lang Lang was recently (in August) on the cover of the BBC Music Magazine, and in the interview of him inside, it was hinted that there was some kind of rivalry between LL and Yundi Li, the “other” famous Chinese pianist, so to speak.  That is to say, LL was asked about Yundi, but pointedly said nothing.  Both are signed up to Deutsche Grammophon, or rather, they both were.  For, according to Norman Lebrecht, the rivalry is indeed very real. 

Lebrecht’s interpretative opinions about the classical scene can be all over the place, but as a collector of classical gossip he is superb.  This is from a recent Lebrecht piece about classical music and in particular orchestral rivalries in China.

Orchestra managers told me they can no longer afford fee demands of a million RMB (just over £100,000) for a Lang Lang concerto performance, not to mention other other superstar conditions. One manager was told by Lang Lang’s father than his son would not play with his orchestra if his arch-rival Yundi Li was engaged in the same year. Yundi, winner of the 2000 Chopin competition in Warsaw and an artist of significantly quieter attributes, appears to gone into retreat, moving his residence to offshore Hong Kong.

Amid whispers that Lang Lang’s enmity has cost Yundi Li his foreign management and record contract - Deutsche Grammophon confirmed to me that the pianist has indeed been dropped, but did not comment on the cause - ...

Such behaviour is depressing, yet I regard it as indirect evidence of how very, very enthusiastic China is about Western classical music.  The prize that people like LL and Yundi are fighting over is very real, and very big.

It never ceases to amaze me how crazy China is for Western classical music, yet how deeply un-crazy for it India is.  Compare and contrast: cricket, which obviously, in India, is to do with Britain having conquered India.  Yet not only that, surely.  For how did classical music conquer China?  Was it through Christian missionaries and their hymns, I wonder?  Somewhere on the www there must surely be writings not just telling that story, but explaining it.  But I have yet to encounter any.

I won’t venture any kind of speculation/explanation but instead just point out: not just China but also Japan. (I once even went to the lengths of ordering 1960s performances of Beethoven by the Smetana Quartet on CD from HMV in Japan, that being the only place they were readily available a the time.)

Is Chinese or Japanese music listened to with enthusiasm by any significant number of westerners? I suspect not. Whereas Indian classical music does have a small but enthusiastic following, including me.

Posted by Alan Little on 20 November 2008

And Korea as well.

I should guess, and these are only guesses, that whereas Chinese classical music is (very roughly) a simpler and particular version of Western classical, a special case of it, so to speak, Indian classical is very definitely different.  Hence the move from Chinese to Western is very easy and appealing.  From Indian to Western not.  Hence also the appeal of Indian, to those Westerners who want something truly different.

But, like I say, only guesses.

I feall another blog posting coming on.  Maybe at Samizdata.  Maybe someone there will know more.  Those commenters have their uses.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 21 November 2008

The ancient Greeks showed that the harmonic intervals of their musical system, which was based on Persian concepts and in turn served as the basis of modern Western music, reflected fundamental mathematical proportions that they believed were a reflection of the order of the cosmos�the music of the spheres.

Posted by China Market on 03 December 2008

If you can find someone who also read Chinese, you might ask him/her do a web search. It’s been expected over a year now. With his repertoire heavily limited over these years and his play continuously in decay, it’s not surprise at all.

Here is just a few hint for you.

http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/great-pianists/message/45248

Posted by nick on 05 December 2008

Some comments on the Great Pianists discussion board, linked to by nick:

1

One concert, or one (or two) recording(s) doesn’t mean a thing. It’s a series of events (or incidents) which prelude this outcome that counts. The complains on Li’s decaying play have been going on over couple of years already, and things started turning bad to worse in China late last year as many who went to Li’s concert paying big money
(usually doubling or tippling the price that we pay in the west) left with such a big dissatisfaction for his lack of preparedness and constant change of repertoire without notice at the last minutes. Beside his die hard fans, many casual listeners felt being fooled by his lack of professionalism. The official response from Li’s camp was that he injured his hand in Chicago last October, as a result, those
folks in China never got the chance to hear his Pictures at an Exhibition. For some reason his lack of new repertoire started haunting him as some online insiders started rumor for his lack of practice and chasing for material life. Many pianophiles in the west mostly got to know Li through those Youtube clips and a few recordings, but seldom realized that Li has also done quite a few commercials, and many tabloid reports showing him socializing with some Hong Kong Pop singers and movie stars. Therefore just how serious he is to classical music became an open question for many music lovers from China. Things getting worse late last year as the news slipped out that he and his former agent had parted away (original rumor was they fired him), for a brief period of time, Li’s camp offered an explanation that Li is aiming to start his own company which soon
substituted by his new signing with his current management group.

Parting with DGG was also imminent, as the rumor of this has been around for about half year on line. Ironically his last CD happens to be one of his best effort there, the studio Ravel concerto was
actually quite good, but, if anyone who happened to have heard the BP Chicago broadcast of this very work Li did with CSO last October, one will see just how boring that live performance turned out to be. It’s like being played by two different person! Just as I have said, one recording, one concert means nothing really, anyone can have a bad day or a good one.

But, during the March-April time in 2008, Li started a multi-city recital tour in Northern American, the reviews were more than just mixed, but rather more negative than positive ones. Even with a handful positive reviews, the description on his rather harsh and brittle tone was pretty much the same across the board. In a word, it’s coming all way along. Many of us knew it long time ago.
Unfortunately this Wall Street Journal author didn’t quite get his homework done before his long outcry.

Is Li being unjustly left out by a major recording label? Is he really in the caliber of Perahia, Goode, Schiff and Peter Serkin as Mr Benjamin Ivry indicated?

I guess the audience are not that dumb, or are they?

2

It’s not a surprise at all. Those who has been to Li’s recent concert knew he’s a huge blunder these days. His progress artistically as well as repertoire wise is extremely slow, even to a down turn. Chopin’s used to be his calling card, and yet in his last US tour, he played like a person who don’t know Chopin at all. So, time is changing and
people are evolving, unfortunately some folks here in this forum are still remaining in statue of the past, or stuck with a fixed picture and couldn’t get over with it.[...]

3

Unfortunately, this is an accurate description of what I heard at Yundi Li’s Carnegie recital last month.  Not only the Chopin, but the Mussorgsky Pictures also, were exceedingly unidiomatic without any redeeming insights that I could find.  Lang Lang, on the other hand, despite an erratic and uneven approach, is a communicative artist and, while often unidiomatic as well, is usually capable
of giving an interpretation which is at the minimum interesting.

Posted by JohnJohn38 on 31 December 2008
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