I had the opportunity to email the enthusiastic pianist George Li, who’s performing works by Haydn, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Liszt at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center in the Sanford-Hill Piano Concert Series.
(If you are unfamiliar with the series, I encourage you to attend, since the program benefits scholarships for serious young musicians at WWU. Jeffrey Gilliam founded the series with South Hill music advocate and philanthropist Sibyl Sanford in 2003, and it became the Sanford-Hill Piano Series in 2011, when her friend Ford Hill, professor emeritus joined her in a commitment to support the series.)
Li will also conduct a masterclass from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the PAC.
Li has performed with Seattle Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony, among others; and has performed chamber music with dozens of notable musicians, including James Ehnes and Benjamin Beilman (the recent guest violinist at Whatcom Symphony Orchestra’s season opener).
I did not know much about Li, and when I did some background research, I was delighted to see a video of his debut at Carnegie Hall at age 11.
His talent and incredible focus at such a young age was remarkable, and so I asked him if he ever considered pursuing another career, and also what brings him joy about his decision.
Here’s what he said.
“I don’t think I had decided on my career that early, but it was certainly around that time when I really started feeling connected with music, or at least affected by it. When I was young, I thought of music and piano more of as a hobby, but when I reached adolescence, I became enchanted with it.
Part of the joy is the process of internalizing the emotions and nuances of a work and communicating them to the audience through the piano.”
I also noticed that when he performs, he seems transported to another world.
I asked him what goes through his head when he plays.
“When I play, I don’t think much about the notes, or pictures of the score in my head; rather, I envision and hear the feelings, imagery and sometimes even color associated with the music, and those ‘visions’ help me understand and perform the piece better.”
I wondered if he is competitive, because of his many accolades and prizes for the competitions he’s involved in, or if he’s just “having fun” and enjoying the moment.
“I’m definitely more of the latter, since I really believe the art of making music can never be competitive, but is a more self-discovering process and one that is constantly striving for perfection.”
And of course, I asked him how can young people become more enamored with the arts, specifically classical music.
“I think one big key is just to be surrounded and exposed to it from an early age; after all, that’s how I started! It’s also really important to have a musical education, whether it be through public schools, or attending pre-concert lectures. I think that music education allows us to understand the fundamental elements of classical music, which would allow for a greater appreciation and understanding, before ultimately leading to enjoyment.
We as young artists also have a responsibility to reach out to the younger groups, and I do believe that personal connection makes a big difference, so I hope to be doing more of that in the coming years!”
Tickets for the concert range from $17 to $42, depending on seating, with discounts for students, and are available by calling 360-650-6146 and at tickets.wwu.edu