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[Off Topic, Sorta] Yundi Li, Amazing Young Chinese Concert Pianist

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As many UD readers know, I was once a classical concert pianist.

Although I no longer perform classical piano concerts or record (earning a living has precluded this for many years), I still play the piano every day for myself and still have a passion for classical music.

I recently discovered something extraordinary: a pianist by the name of Yundi Li, who grew up in relative poverty in China and became the youngest pianist to ever win the International Chopin Competition at the age of 18.

At this youtube link you can listen to and see his performances at the competition. The first two works (Chopin Scherzo No. 2 and Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante, both of which are in my repertoire and which I loved to perform) are magnificent, but his performance of the Chopin Concerto with orchestra beginning at 26:38 is the most beautiful and inspiring I have ever heard, and I have heard many of them.

Chopin wrote this concerto at the age of 20.

Yundi’s technique is impeccable (this, of course, is a prerequisite), but the most amazing thing is his overall musicianship. There is passion, drama, and stunningly sensitive and convincing subtlety and nuance in his musical interpretation. In the slow, second movement, I was overwhelmed with this, and the superb musical melding with the orchestra and conductor.

Musicians know this when they hear it (as did the Chopin Competition jury, obviously), but it cannot be defined. Whether it be the composition itself or the performance, we know when “it works” and when it doesn’t.

I had the privilege and blessing of studying music from the age of seven with a wonderful piano teacher — Ruby Bailey, a graduate of the Eastman Conservatory and wife of the chairman of the department of music at Washington State University. After all the instruction, practice, rehearsal, music theory, and the rest, whenever I went out to perform she would always tell me: “Just think about what you want to say.”

To suggest that Darwinian evolution through random errors filtered by natural selection explains all of this is simply absurd on its face.

Great art is an expression of the human soul.

riddick, Interesting post at 16, Thanks. The Reason software is really intended for heavily electronic music production. It is more like a recording studio (with virtual racks of mixers, drum machines, etc). It's a very sophisticated program, and quite expensive. The version I was using at the time did not include a live music interface, so you were required to use the instruments provided (which was not so bad considering the vast number of instruments available). Also, you could purchase more instrument sounds on separate discs. I have the "strings" disc. Also, it's not a notation software, so you're not really composing per se when using the program. What you're doing really is recording. The sounds of the instruments are phenomenal, and I was able to set up an entire orchestra in the full stereo spectrum based on where the instruments might be placed during performance. I doubt if there were many musicians using the software for the purposes I was using it. Most would probably use it for Eurobeat type music. Currently I'm using a free downloadable notation software called MusicScore. It has it's problems, but it's one of those programs that can be updated by anyone with programming knowledge, along the same lines as OpenOffice software. The best part about is is that it's free. CannuckianYankee
riddick, re: 17 Yes, Well I'm no music scholar either. What I have read and understood though, from several sources is that Mozart wrote those first 4 concertos at a very early age, and they borrowed heavily themes from previous concertos of italian composers, so they really weren't Mozart's first original concertos. I believe the 5th was his very first original concerto. The first one, KV 37 was composed at the age of 11. At the time the keyboard concerto was quite popular, as JS Bach, CPE Bach and several other previous composers had written some. But prior to Mozart, these concertos were written for the harpsichord; although you will find that most performances/recordings of these today use the piano. I like Murray Perahia's recordings of JS Bach's. He plays them on the piano. CannuckianYankee
CY: "BTW, Mozart’s first four keyboard concertos were written for the harpsichord..." I would suppose that this is probably not the case, but I'm not a Mozart scholar. At the time Mozart was alive, the harpsichord was rapidly being replaced by the fortepiano as the keyboard of choice. riddick
CannuckianYankee, I have an old copy of Finale, and despite the fact that it was and probably still is the premier musical software, it couldn't do what I wanted, so I never upgraded it. Thanks for pointing out the Reason software, I will check it out. I agree with you that it is very difficult if not impossible to reproduce the fine mechanical nuances of a well-designed piano, but there are some very good, albeit expensive, electronic pianos that take some of those aspects into consideration. Besides, there are other intricacies — years ago I read an article by Kutrzweil where he described many of these challenges, mentioning the unique timbral and waveform characteristics of piano, which is, for better or worse, quite a bit different from all the other musical instruments. My point, however, is that all those subtle nuances, as well as the overall grand piano sound that is so cherished by the piano cannoisseurs, are really secondary compared to the problems related to the equal tuning of the piano. (BTW, even on the strictly tonal qualities of piano, given the huge selection of musical instruments, I can't honestly say I am a piano sound cannoisseur, I would rank piano somewhere in the middle of the musical instruments I like.) However, there is a huge difference when a specific piece of music is played in equal tuning and in an appropriate unequal tuning that enhances the harmonies and the overall sound of that music piece. In that respect, I would prefer an old beat up bar-room piano with squeaky keys properly tuned, to a very expensive concert piano tuned to an offensive equal temperament. Indeed, I don't mind so much ragtime or honky-tonk piano sound. Some, like John Cage went to a great length to alter the harmonic and timbral properties, perhaps to compensate for the equal tuning that he too may have found offensive? Historically, various piano tuners had their own ideas and preferences, and even what the end user considered an equally tuned piano, in fact, often wan't. I am not sure to what extend a majority of modern concert pianists worry about the tuning of their piano. The equal tuning became a de-facto standard, hailed as the panacea of music, when in fact, it is only one special tuning that may or may not be appropriate for the purpose it is used. Quoting Duffin, the generally known and acknowledged history is that Rameau discovered equal tuning and we all lived happily ever after. The real history and the real truth is quite a bit different, with a lot of fallacies, like the still prevailing nonsense opined by Murray Barbour in his famous 1951 Tuning and Temperament, that "J.S. Bach's organ music would have been dreadfully dissonant in any sort of tuning except equal temperament." BTW, Barbour is still quoted as an expert on tuning and the tuning philosophy, see wiki under Further Reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_tuning Nothing can be further from the truth, and Duffin debunks another popular fallacy of the "wohltemperirt" or "well-tempered" clavier of J.S. Bach, which is usually translated as "equal tempered", but that is not what Bach meant and tuned on the instruments he played! This despite the fact that Bach and other musicians of that era were well-aware of the the equal tuning. As far as Mozart, his father Leopold was well aware of the problems of good tuning, and there is a letter to his son Wolfgang, in which he recommended Tosi as an authority on tuning. Unfortunately Wolfgang did not address the issues of tuning in his reply to his father, since his mother had passed away and he was writing about that. So, according to Duffin, there is a huge silence about what kind of tuning Wolfgang used for his fortepiano, but there is further evidence that he recognized his father's advice, and most likely had his instruments tuned to some unknown irregular tuning based on that. What I meant by mentioning the electronic instruments, is that since it is so difficult to re-tune a real piano, or any other real keyboard instrument, the only workable alternative is to have an electronic instrument with decent sound, which could be very easily re-tuned to any imaginable or unimaginable tuning. This is perfectly doable with modern technology, although it would require some good and intelligent design, pun intended. Barbour listed about 150 historical tunings, and that is only a beginning, since there are also atonal musical pieces and music based on other divisions than the most common 12 tone music. Not all may sound good, but some may sound great, so why not allow musicians to experiment and be creative by being able to easily retune their instrument? rockyr
Gil, Thanks. I downloaded all 3 albums without a hitch. :) CannuckianYankee
Thanks for all the comments on this thread...incredibly interesting! Upright BiPed
rockyr, A few years back I became interested in classical music composition, which since, I've completed several piano works and a symphony. I remain an amateur. I was using a software program: "Propellerhead: Reason," which was not intended for that purpose. Composers usually use "Sibelius" or "Finale" music notation software for that purpose. However, Reason (although not providing notation capabilities) had one advantage at least at the time, with the ability to sample actual musical instruments, and their piano sounds could be adjusted to nearly mimic an actual piano. Also the strings and wind instruments sounded more realistic than on other softwares. But for my tastes, "nearly" wasn't good enough. I spent months attempting to adjust the sounds of these instruments, with the eventual outcome of dissatisfaction. As I listened to the Beethoven sonata recordings I possessed featuring the talent and skills of Murray Perahia and Alfred Brendel, the Reason software failed in reproducing the subtle sounds of reverberation when the felt of the hammer first detaches from the striking of the strings, and the harmonics that can be heard in that event, as one string reverberates off the reverberations of the other two. The issue is that a real piano is inconsistent in producing these sounds, and each time the key is struck, due to the sensitivity inherent with varriant levels of velocity, one encounters a new experience each time a particular piece is played, not to mention the variations inherent in each new performance. An electronic instrument will never be able to mimic these subtleties. This is one of the beauties of the real sound of a good grand piano. The modern pianos seem to produce this effect more so than pianos from eras such as Mozart's, or perhaps there's just a different tonality. I now recognize an excellent recording when I can at the very least, distinguish these subtleties, which would inevitably be present when in the live presence of a good piano performer. I currently have an electronic piano at home. Quite often I dream of real pianos. There is no comparison. One day I hope to purchase one. BTW, Mozart's first four keyboard concertos were written for the harpsichord (with orchestra). If Mozart had known then what he later discovered about the piano forte (being the first composer to write a complete concerto for this instrument), I imagine that he might have determined them for such an alternative instrument; for he never again wrote another harpsichord concerto after his first piano forte concerto. I have recordings of all four on both instruments, and I much prefer the piano recordings. CannuckianYankee
Gil, I have listened to your music and love it. Over and above the artistry, you have a technical command of the instrument that is quite impressive. While I love the classics, my favorite artists are those who were classicly trained and later turned to jazz, musicians such as Art Tatum, George Shearing, Peter Nero, and Andre Previn. On the matter of explaining their work, it is inconceivable that some physical law or series of random events could produce the kind of melodic creativity, harmonic sensibility, and artistic improvisation that comes from the mind and heart of such great pianists. The idea that physical laws and random events could join forces to compose or embellish a piece of music is patently ridiculous. StephenB
Gil, I wanted to reply a few times before in response to your piano music related posts, but I didn't want ruin your day. I would really like to know your response. I am one of the few people who don't like piano music. I didn't really know why, I never liked it, despite the fact that my mother had a Bösendorfer. I shouldn't say all piano music, because I was blown away by the virtuosity of some piano virtuosi, say Shura Cherkassky whose concert I once attended, but I suspected that it was their amazing virtuosity that overshadowed the objectionable sound of the piano itself. I love all sorts of music, including organ and harpsichord. I got the first clue of what was wrong when I heard some harpsichord music played by Mitzi Meyerson. See her website. BTW, I love her philosophy — "Know what you mean, and believe what you say." http://www.mitzi-meyerson.de/ The difference was that on her recordings she often plays on instruments tuned to historical unequal temperaments, see for example here: http://www.amazon.com/Buxtehude-Suites-Variations-Harpsichord/dp/B0000030NO I tried to find more about the differences between the equal tuning and the various historical tunings and at one point I was thinking about building an electronic instrument which I could tune to various temperaments. Needles to say, the technical difficulty proved too much, but I was and am still hoping that the manufacturers would design a reasonably priced instrument like that. Anyway, my life-long suspicion of piano were finally justified when I read the book by the musicologist Ross W. Duffin, "How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care)" http://www.amazon.com/Equal-Temperament-Ruined-Harmony-Should/dp/0393062279 I think every keyboard musician should read this book. "Sometimes pianists try to sound like singers: Me personally, I try to sound like a Bösendorfer." (Placido Domingo) rockyr
Cannuck, Yes, something fishy appears to have happened. Those files had been on the server for ages and may have become corrupted. I just re-uploaded them, downloaded them, and decompressed the zip files. Everything appears to be working fine now. GilDodgen
Gil, I really do want to hear your recordings, but I've had trouble in the past with downloading them. I don't know if it's my computer or what. Is there an alternative? CannuckianYankee
Here's a direct link to three of my piano albums which you can download for free: http://worldchampionshipcheckers.com/Piano/piano.html I've included program notes and a tribute to Ruby, who gave me a gift that will last forever. GilDodgen
BA: that was really amazing. And it would certainly not be off topic in the thread about consciousness... gpuccio
Hey cool this is a time one of my off topics can be on topic. I don't know the subtleties about his technique on the piano, but I was none-the-less blown away by this 'living miracle'. Derek Paravicini on 60 MINUTES - Autistic Savant - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4303465 bornagain77
KF: Great! gpuccio
Let us count the ways . . . 1: the codecs that bring us the video, on our PCs with the OS and hardware and software. 2: The video itself, in Flash video standard:rules and symbols fulfilling a meaningful function. (Never mind the losses due to digital truncation, we capture enough to be adequately functional, though the digital has not got a patch on actually attending a performance of genius in a world class concert hall.) 3: The spoken language with phonemes intuitively cascaded to yield meaningful sentences in a social context that is also highly and intelligently organised. 4: The sub-tiles in Chinese ideographic symbols (where each symbol comes form an alphabet of thousands, and is based on stylised sketches], in some cases interwoven with Arab-Hindu decimally coded numerals [that read back-ways to Chinese!]. 5: the defiantly analogue Concert Grand Piano, which is awesomely complex, functionally specific, finely tuned and utterly responsive to the soul and subtle touch of an expert, gifted, inspired -- and yes, in the literal sense -- player. 6: the communications in the subtle gestures and the social context. (Including, the impoverished, supremely talented and confident youth from China in the tux!] 7: the approach, seating, pause and obvious prayer for inspiration. 8: the takeoff, as the fingers tickle those ever so responsively and defiantly analogue keys . . . 9: over an hour in the heavens . . . ________________ We see soul only by its actions, but we know that nothing else can come close to what we see! Or as the Elder John put it, echoing his Master and eternally beloved friend:
John 3: 5Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You[c] must be born again.' 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
And yes, we have here an invitation to insight and thence definition by powerful example and family resemblance. Not just information and intelligence and design but . . . Soul. Free will. Mind. Heart. Art. Joy and sorrow. Genius. Inspiration. Indeed: Imago Dei . . . (And, let us not overlook the possibilities of this little digital keyboard used tot type this message, though it has not a millionth part of the sophistication and infinitely plastic subtlety of those 88 defiantly analogue keys of "ebony and ivory.") Yundi Li, you astonish, inspire -- and shame -- us. Thank you. GEM of TKI PS: Gil, thank you; too. We needed this as a reminder, and to clear the air of the poisonous clouds of rhetorical confusion. kairosfocus
Gil: thank you for the reference. I will listen to this pianist as soon as possible. Yes, art is one of the greatest manifestations of human soul. And it certainly implies CSI, but goes far beyond that. Our darwinist interlocutors will probably ask us to define what art is. I will not even begin to try. But you know, and I know. And, I am sure, they know too. gpuccio
"Great art is an expression of the human soul." How very true. I love Chopin's piano works. I've attempted to learn some of the Preludes - some are easy, some not. But overall, I don't attempt to learn them for any other reason than to be able to express something sublime, which words cannot express. In fact, every time I play one of my favorite pieces - (Beethoven or Mozart Sonatas, for example), I'm taken to new heights, and each performance (usually to myself for my own enjoyment) gives me a new experience. I quite often get this sense of awe when listening to my favorite recordings as well, but it's not exactly the same. It's true, materialism cannot explain this. Musicians and composers could not hope to accomplish greatness without a respect for the language of the soul. CannuckianYankee
Thanks, Gil. I have a great love of music, although certainly much less technical understanding and capability than many, including yourself. Music is one of the many remarkable things that contribute to a full and fulfilling life -- and there is zero explanation for it in terms of traditional evolutionary theory. Is it a disproof? Of course not, but it is one in a long list of things that should cause us to be very skeptical of the naturalistic explanation for our existence. Eric Anderson

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