George Li: Live at the Marinsky (Warner) works by Haydn, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Liszt
George Li is a 21-year-old Chinese-American pianist. He's already won many awards, including the silver medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 2015.
Last month, he made his debut at Carnegie Hall, where he performed the same program featured on his new recording, "Live at the Mariinsky." In fact, he's still basking in the glow of that Russian recital.
"I was just feeling so many different emotions within me," he says. "I mean there was the kind of excitement of it being my first recording. So, I was just so excited to do that and also to play for the Russian audience again. And because they're just so appreciative of classical music and you can really see it in their eyes."
"Like a journey down to hell, and back up again," George, that's how you describe the experience on your debut recording. What do you mean by that?
"I thought about that kind of because although it has so many styles with classical, romantic, and post-Romantic with Rachmaninoff and a little bit of Liszt, there's just so many stylistic differences, but also throughout the program I really felt that there was kind of like an emotional journey."
The B minor sonata by Haydn, now that's kind of unusual for him to write in that key. Do you know why he chose the key of B minor for that sonata?
"I don't know why he would choose that key. But, for me, I just feel like each key brings its own color and that it really fits this piece well. You have the beginning which is ... first two measures, which contrasts so much with the latter two measures, where you have this kind of prickly pungent kind of sound in the beginning and contrasting with like the linear kind of mellifluous kind of sounds that follow it. So you have this very ... elegant and witty kind of Haydn as I was saying but it's also tinged with the sadness."
The Chopin Piano Sonata, which follows Number 2 in B-flat minor, it includes that famous funeral march, which is the third movement, that beautiful lullaby section in there. And it just gave me a whole new perspective on it, certainly the way that you presented it as well.
"Yeah I agree with that. I think just the juxtaposition between that very somber ... so like mournful, repetitive kind of nature of the funeral march with the sublime kind of beauty that's presented almost like naive, but also just very simple beauty. And I think just the combination of the two just really highlights the extremes and kind of brings out and makes that whole movement all the more like touching and moving."
The Rachmaninoff Variations on a Theme of Corelli are filled with 20 variations that shift from mood to mood. It's almost like having 20 conversations with 20 different people. I would think it would be kind of exhausting to shift moods like that. How do you manage all those different moods in this piece?
"Yeah, it's just so amazing how well he's able to kind of just shift from one to the next almost seamlessly. For me, there is almost like a certain series of movements where the first one goes right until like the intermezzo and then the intermezzo all the way to the end of the D-flat major section, which [Vladimir] Ashkenazy called like the island of kind of warmth and joy surrounded by an ocean of darkness."
Click above for the extended interview, or download the podcast wherever you get podcasts, to hear more about this recording.
ResourcesGeorge Li (official site)
George Li (Warner Classics)
George Li: Live at the Marinsky (Amazon)