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Lost In Performance

Brilliant Chinese pianist Yundi (Li Yundi), youngest winner of the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2000, had a devastating evening according to Korean music critic Ilbum Chang  after attending his October 30th concert at the Seoul Arts Center. Yundi got lost when playing Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra  conducted by David Robertson.

The performance ground to a halt as soloist and conductor consulted with each other and then got back on track to finish the Concerto.

Some disappointed fans requested refunds.

A media and Facebook frenzy ensued.

Some comments indicated that it is reassuring to know that pianists such as Vladimir Horowitz had memory slips. Others observed that performers are human and humans are not perfect.

On his website, Li issued the following statement:

“We apologize for our mistakes in the Seoul concert and would like to issue a sincere apology to our fans and friends and thank the conductor and the orchestra for their support and forgiveness. As a pianist, I know that no matter what, my performance on stage must be perfect, any kind of explanation is insufficient. Thank you for your comments.”


Click the link below to hear Yundi perform La Campanella by Franz Liszt.


*What is a “perfect” performance?

*How does knowing Horowitz had a memory slip make other performers feel better?

*Does “being human” avoid feeling ashamed and humiliated?

*Is music performance a high risk activity?

*Why do very few university music programs offer courses in the psychology of performance despite data that show music students can be at risk for anxiety and depression given the competitive and visible nature of their profession, the long developmental trajectory that precedes entering a music school for advanced instruction, the prevalence of debilitating stage fright, and high rates of  unemployment and underemployment?

*Why are ongoing fundraising efforts in many music schools typically dedicated to constructing buildings instead of providing classes and emotional support services for constructive lives?

*Why is there a lack of formal and interdisciplinary relationships between music schools and mental health professionals in the community?

* Do you think Li Yundi should have apologized?

Please share your thoughts about the above questions, add your own, and write them in “Leave A Reply”. You are welcome to sign up for future Blogs to be sent directly to your e mailbox – just leave your e mail address in the box below.

  1. Louis Nagel 7 years ago

    It is sad that today’s supposed demand for perfection instead demands inhuman ideals from the performer and invites unrealistic expectations from the audience. That some in his audience demanded a refund is really unfortunate. I wonder if the N.Y. Mets fans demanded refunds after Dan Murphy made two errors after hitting all those game winning home runes in earlier contests? I wonder if performers like Schnabel and Cortot, known for memory lapses as well as their supreme artistry, are to be discredited today? I don’t think Yundi Li needs to be”perfect”. I think he and his (hopefully admiring) audiences need to grant him his humanity, and celebrate it.

  2. julie 7 years ago

    What has changed from Yesterday to Today regarding “demands for perfection”. You cannot just blame recordings. Should there be responsibility from those who educate performers to do more than emphasize right notes, technique, and winning competitions?

  3. Louis Nagel 7 years ago

    What kind of impression doe a re-recorded “sterilized note-purrfict” recording leave with a young person or an audience member who thinks this is the way the piece must go when he/she hears it? I certainly don’t advocate mistakes or sloppiness, but I know that all performances open the door for some imperfections. A live event is so valuable, even with its possible blemishes. Within reason, those errors one might leave behind en route to a successful performance are acceptable and informative.

  4. julie nagel 7 years ago

    What is the role of teachers ? Where is Administrative support to educate healthy students who graduate in a cultural environment that does not support them financially, where competition for employment in music performance is fierce, and that musicians have a LONG life history (since childhood music lessons) becoming a performing musician. This is a recipe for mental health (not defined by “perfection” – whatever that is) ?????????


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