Knowledge holds key to success

lau kit wai

To Li Yundi, playing the piano is as natural as breathing. The youngest winner of the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in 2000, the 22-year-old music prodigy is still taking piano lessons.

'The lessons nowadays are more about exchanging views on music with my teacher,' says Li.

'This is very important because I can talk about my views and the teacher can then talk about his experiences and things that he understands. It is not like teaching children [to play the piano] anymore. This stage has already passed.'

Li first took piano lessons in 1989. Born in Chongqing , Li was five years old when he demonstrated his music talents by winning the first prize at a children's accordion competition in his hometown.

Since then, Li has won the Stravinsky International Youth Piano Competition (1995), the Missouri Southern International Youth Piano Competition (1998) and the China International Youth Piano Competition (1999). He also won the gold medal in Poland four years ago.

Li listens to different kinds of music. He likes Mariah Carey.

'Her voice is very good. It is an in-born talent. As a singer, your voice is your asset. It is a gift from Heaven and cannot be achieved through practice,' says Li.

While many people think that classical musicians hone their skills all the time, Li actually practises the piano no more than four to five hours each day.

'It is enough if you are serious and concentrate during practice. You need to spend time on other things such as reading to improve your recitals,' says Li.

He says he is currently reading books about music, history and culture. His favourite writer is Russian poet Pushkin.

'When re-creating somebody else's piece which has been interpreted by many others before, you have to use your personal interpretation and understanding of the composer,' says Li.

And Li certainly has a deep understanding of the historical facts that have led to his success on the international stage.

The days of artistic repression in the mainland are over. Classical music is no longer criticised as a rich man's pastime.

'China is now the focus of the world and is developing fast. The world is concerned about the country's cultural developments,' says Li.

'I hope I can play a role in helping China to develop its reputation internationally in terms of music and culture. As a humanistic society, cultural enhancement is important in addition to rapid economic development.'

Li's ultimate dream is to become an all-round artist - someone who knows a lot about culture and the arts.

'I have a big desire to acquire knowledge. I want to know more and understand more so that my heart will be filled and my performances will be more convincing,'

he says.