Yundi Li was just 18 when he won first prize at the prestigious International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Li, now 22, is the youngest person ever to take the top honors — and the first Chinese winner. Critics praise his precise, crystalline technique — his fluidity on the keys — and the enthusiasm he brings to the music of Chopin.
Piano was not Li's first instrument. As a young child in Chongking, China, he fell in love with the accordion and persuaded his parents to buy him one when he was only 4. Shortly afterward, he switched to piano, and his teachers quickly recognized the talent of a prodigy.
"Chopin's music is so natural, so warm. And he loves his country," Li said in an interview with NPR host Melissa Block. "When he left Warsaw and lived in Paris, he had that feeling — homesickness. Now I study in Germany, and I miss China."
Li is something of a classical pop star in his home country, with screaming fans regularly attending his concerts. He says that winning the Chopin competition made him a Chinese hero.
Li continues to play Chopin today. His latest album is titled Chopin: Scherzi/Impromptus.