It's not everyday you meet a virtuoso pianist, so, as there is a grand piano at the assigned rendezvous, the temptation to ask the dashing Li Yundi to flip the lid and tickle the ivories into life is acute. With critics falling over themselves to heap praise on the musician - 'every note is honed to a glittering, diamond-like perfection', claims Gramophone magazine - you'd be a fool not make such a request, wouldn't you?
It is, however, something of an everyday occurrence in Hong Kong for hotel officialdom to shut out spontaneity with an austere pencil-tap on the rules list. 'It might disturb the other guests,' explains a finger-wagging manager at the Langham Hotel lobby cafe in Tsim Sha Tsui as we both eye the old Joanna contentiously.
The one other guest is nursing an expensive, petite cup of frothy coffee and looking sideways at a Hong Kong map while listening (subconsciously, one hopes) to the piped muzak that rebounds off the marble decor.
Why on Earth would she want to be annoyed by the young maestro, dubbed the Elvis of the piano world, who in his native China is welcomed like a rock star?
'Anyway, I think it's out of tune,' says the manager in meek defiance.
Thankfully, Li is out of ear shot of such blasphemy. The VIP resident of the hotel and of Hong Kong (the mysterious arts tsars who inhabit Immigration Tower awarded Li special SAR residency for his musical talents in February) saunters across the lobby from the lift, unaware of the minor spat that has just taken place.
He looks more likely to demand ghetto rap be played on the PA system, dressed as he is in a chic, grey T-shirt, sophisticated bling (a slim gold chain and bracelet), jeans and suede trainers - topped off by a stylised hair-do and chunky, white-rimmed sunglasses. We turn our backs on the lame grand and try to ignore the tinny tune being pumped around the lounge.
'I'm on my way back to my home town, Chongqing,' says Li. He's a tad fidgety - perhaps he's a little media weary; a Reuters TV crew has just been grilling him and his Hong Kong agent is hovering. Maybe he's unused to feeling this isolated in public. On the mainland, he's often mobbed by adoring female fans - and not just for his movie-star good looks; his erudite mind and romantic intensity can cause a crowd of teenage girls to swoon at a 1,000 paces.
This talent-loaded, continent-crossing musical crackerjack speaks and plays for a generation of mainland youths enchanted by the cult of celebrity. He is the personification of middle-class Chinese urbanity. Millions of young Chinese want to be like him, or in the case of adoring women, marry him.
Their parents encourage adulation of the smouldering maestro; rather him than the brash young urban rebels - the goths, punks and rappers - who are taking up nonchalant residence on street corners and in internet arcades across every Chinese metropolis.
This is, after all, a young man who can play 10 successive notes in one second and who uses his love of red wine to form metaphors to better explain his musical interpretation of Chopin, Liszt, Ravel and Prokofiev.
He's also comfortably wealthy, thanks to soaring record sales, sold-out concerts and advertising contracts with Mercedes-Benz and Nike. He has apartments in Beijing, Shenzhen, Berlin and is looking for one in Hong Kong, presumably so he can ensure the piano at the Langham is always primed.
Older classical-music lovers in China adore him too, for he is helping to rekindle a genre that is, as with other arts, undergoing a long, post-Cultural Revolution renaissance.
The Chinese authorities also approve, even if he is described as a 'classical Elvis Presley'; it is, after all, rather difficult to thrust a suggestive hip or two when seated. Whereas the avant-garde artists of the New China are often slapped down for subliminal subversion, fresh-faced, boy-next-door Li is courted wherever he goes.
Classical recordings now account for more than 10 per cent of music sales on the mainland and ensembles and orchestras are springing up across the nation. The Beijing-based China Philharmonic is only seven years old but is enjoying rave reviews. Overseas orchestras have no problem selling out their China tours.
Li, like his pianist peer Lang Lang, is in great demand, not least because he quenches the collective patriotic thirst by flying the flag for talent-laden China. Li was recently appointed the 'image ambassador' for the popular Super Boy talent show, a Chinese version of American Idol, and the follow-up to Super Girl. Li helps attract an audience of 100 million plus.
'I know it's not classical music on Super Boy but I went on to show the young Chinese that if they do their best their dreams can come true.' Li quickly qualifies his earnest encouragement to the dreaming masses, by referring to the competition that propelled him into the celebrity firmament.
In 2000, aged just 16, he became the youngest winner of the prestigious Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition. (With the judges notoriously hard to please, the gold medal had not been awarded at the previous two competitions.)
'I did my best in that competition and winning it was a dream come true. I want the young people to believe in themselves - to believe that anything is possible and do their best. China is changing fast. There is a new philosophy, thanks to new influences and openness. I really believe that if you want something, you can now get it,' he enthuses.
His performance in the competition was the finale of years of dedication by him, his parents and his mentor, renowned piano tutor Dan Zhaoyi.
Li's musical career began at the age of four, with the accordion. His father, Li Chuan, recalls that, as a toddler, his only child would spend hours warbling Chinese songs he had learned by heart from the TV.
With their offspring's musical talent blooming, the Lis made a huge financial commitment and bought their then six-year-old son a piano. The second-hand instrument cost 4,000 yuan - four times Li Chuan's monthly salary, earned as the manager of a state-owned iron and steel company. 'It was like buying a house,' his father has said.
The investment represented a huge risk. Yundi's mother had studied classical ballet as a girl but was forced to abandon classes during the Cultural Revolution; any link with the arts in the Li family tree ends there.
Like hundreds of millions of Chinese families, the Lis grasped the opportunities being rolled out in the 1980s. Their own dreams having been dashed amid the chaos of the previous decades, they hedged their bets - and all their finances - on an education to nurture the child genius.
Their son's teacher had also suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Dan was forced out of a Beijing music school to become an accompanist in a state-run theatre. When reforms came, he travelled to Europe and witnessed 'very high-quality performers'. Enlightened, he became a teacher and, after one of his first charges was awarded second place in an international competition in Germany in 1994, Dan became one of China's most sought-after tutors.
He first encountered the young Li at a youth competition - which he was judging - in Chongqing. Li, then aged seven, won. 'I spotted some wrong notes but it was very moving to see how absorbed he was in the music,' Dan told a newspaper in 2005.
The teacher took the young talent under his wing and, when Dan was transferred to the newly opened Shenzhen Arts School, more than 1,000km away to the south, Li's parents packed up and followed, with their precocious child, without a backward glance.
Li's natural talent continued to mature under Dan and the young musician was soon carrying away major prizes from international competitions.
Bolstered by the frenetic development of the late 1990s, China's central planners were beginning to unleash their home-grown talent on the world. When officials from the Shenzhen municipal government suggested in 1999 that Dan and Li try for the biggest piano prize of them all, the Frederick Chopin, the dynamic pair obliged.
The competition is staged every five years in Warsaw, Poland, and has propelled the careers of some of the world's most renowned artists, including reclusive Argentinian Martha Argerich and Maurizio Pollini, an Italian who won a Grammy Award this year.
Li outplayed 93 contestants over four rounds to become the youngest person ever to take the highest award. Classical music label Deutsche Grammophon snapped him up with an exclusive recording contract. Marketed like a pop idol, Li was soon in make-up, preparing for flashy videos and pin-up portraits.
Because of the aggressive branding, it's easy to draw comparisons with Nigel Kennedy, the English violinist who made headlines in the late 80s with a heady mix of raw talent, a thumping rendition of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and loutish behaviour. Li, like Kennedy, has helped popularise classical music for a new generation.
After six intense years, Li has completed his studies at the Hanover Conservatory of Music, and has flown the music-classroom coop. He wants to add some personality to his talent, hence the desire to interpret some of the most complicated piano scores ever composed. 'I've mainly been playing the romantic composers, Chopin and Liszt,' he explains 'which I really enjoy. But I am now feeling fuller as a human in terms of feelings - like a full-bodied red wine.
'I think before I was more light, a younger wine. But I'm more mature now, and I feel more desire to really understand the works of more fiery composers like Prokofiev and Ravel, and be more in control of the interpretation of the harmony, the energy, the feeling.'
It's the music sheets of Prokofiev, the Russian composer, that are demanding most of his practice time, he says. 'I spend up to six hours a day. It's a very complicated score. Prokofiev wrote some of the most complicated piano scores ever. You cannot imagine how many notes. In one second you have to play 10 notes. But I am spending more time thinking about the pieces and how I will perform them as I see them. I feel I understand myself more, and the composers.'
Hong Kong audiences will have to wait until January to witness this greater understanding - when Li performs with the Hong Kong Philharmonic; he is here now on a stopover, on his way to take part in an event to mark his home city's 10 years as a municip-ality. 'I haven't been back [to Chongqing] for nearly seven years so I feel I owe the people something.
'I enjoy [stardom] a lot as I love young people and want to share my thoughts and my interest in music with them. I feel a great connection, a great atmosphere with my fans. They love me so much and I want to give them so much more,' he says.
It can get a bit lonely, one imagines, being a virtuoso - does he have a girlfriend? 'No, not yet,' he says coyly. But he is looking, he says, before slumping back in his chair, giggling at the bombshell revelation that is sure to cause meltdown at his fan-club website.
When not looking for a partner, Li 'likes photography and fast cars - especially Ferraris'.
'I used to play a lot of table tennis, though not so much now, and I like to swim. I read music-history books. And I get together with friends to drink wine.
I love French and Chilean,' reveals Li.
He listens to Mozart, Wagner and Verdi, among other greats, and he believes the piano shines best when paired with an opera singer. 'The piano is singing, but it cannot always make the melody or make the right phrase. But a singer can. I love opera for this.' Li says he would like to join the ranks of the great composers one day, and he has a piano in each of his apartments should inspiration strike.
On his iPod, though, Li has the latest Canto-pop, to 'make sure I know what my fans are also listening to' and jazz. Rock music? 'Not so much,' he says.
'I like R&B. And I like Elvis and his singing. He had everything.'
He says, like the King, he has an interest in making films, 'but something different'. He is the subject of a documentary called The Young Romantic, in which he stars alongside maestro Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa. The film, half of which was shot recently, with completion slated for the end of next autumn, details the duo's preparation for a live concert: the centrepiece of the programme. It will be aired on television next year then released on DVD, 'just as the world is turning its attention to Beijing for the Summer Olympics'.
Officially based in Shenzhen, he has yet to take full advantage of his new Hong Kong residency status, which was applied for by his mother. She filled out an application form in his absence when she heard Hong Kong was offering 'exceptional' mainlanders an opportunity to set up shop here. The idea is that entrepreneurs, artists and other leading lights develop their talent with the assistance of our tried-and-tested free-wheeling spirit.
'I am looking to buy an apartment here but haven't had the time to look yet,' he explains. He says he is also keen to offer the same encouragement he gives mainlanders to Hong Kong's young hopefuls.
As Li is photographed, he drums his fingers on the arm of the chair; he says he loves the limelight but he's had enough of the hotel-lounge existence for one day.
Are the digits insured? 'Yes, I think so. My agent arranges such things,' he says, unwilling to give any indication as to how much for. He appears uncomfortable with the personal-finances probe.
Perhaps they're priceless.
On reflection, it is just as well we did not affront them with bum notes from the out-of-tune hotel piano.