Canadian pianist Tony Siqi Yun takes home the $150,000 USD prize from the first-ever China International Music Competition, held in Beijing. Yun won after his performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin — in another Canadian connection to the competition.
Yun spoke to reporters after the win. “Words cannot express how I feel to have been awarded the Gold Medal of the China International Music Competition. It has been an extraordinary time in Beijing, and I am so grateful to the jury and everyone here who have been such great colleagues.”
Yoheved Kaplinsky, Chairman of the jury and Artistic Director, praised the 18 year-old pianist after the jury awarded the prize. “Tony exhibited professionalism, musicianship, poise and an incredible ability to integrate himself with the orchestra. He was the most sensitive in his interaction with the orchestra and conductor.”
Second Prize in the competition, with an award worth $75,000 USD, went to 17-year-old Russian Alexander Malofeev, and Third Prize, with $30,000 USD, went to 24-year-old American musician MacKenzie Melemed.
The China International Music Competition will be held annually, with a specific instrument as its focus for each iteration. The 2020 competition will be dedicated to the violin. Competitors to the invitational competition, organized by the China Conservatory of Music, based in Beijing, are recommended by music institutions and authorities. The jury was international in scope, consisting of Yoheved Kaplinsky (USA, Chair) Liguang Wang (China), Arie Vardi (Israel), Dmitri Alexeev (UK), Ronan O’Hora (Britain), Jan Jiracek von Arnim (Germany), Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń (Poland), Boris Berman (USA), Lydia Artymiw (USA), Michel Beroff (France), and Warren Jones (USA)
Along with the cash prize, Yun will be signed to Opus 3 Artists in the United States and Armstrong Music and Arts in China for professional representation, with three years of international concert tours in the works.
Yun is no stranger to the winner’s podium. His other recent wins include the Rosalyn Tureck prize and Evgeny Kissin grand prize in the Fifth Rosalyn Tureck International Bach Competition in New York, and Second Prize and Silver Medal in the International Competition for Young Pianists in Memory of Vladimir Horowitz in Ukraine, among others.
A native of Toronto, Yun began his musical studies at the age of four, and by seven or eight, was practicing up to four hours a day. He says he was inspired by older sister Amy, who played the violin. In 2011, at age 10, his music training took root in China, where he studied piano at the Middle School Affiliated to the Central Conservatory of Music, and as a student at Dulwich College Beijing.
Jing Yao, school development director at Dulwich College Beijing, told China Daily that the school even bought a grand piano, especially for Yun. “He was called the ‘Lang Lang of Dulwich’,” he told reporters.
In the same story, published when Yun was named 2018 champion at the Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition in Cleveland, the young pianist praised the Chinese educational system.
“I think China has the best basic music education in the world, which put a great effort in developing strong fingers. Now, at Juilliard, I only need to concentrate on how to interpret music.”
Yun is currently studying at The Juilliard School Pre-College Division under Professor Matti Raekallio, and has performed in a solo recital at Steinway Hall in New York. While he may be making his home in New York City for the moment, it’s in China that he is building his career. Yun performed in a series of solo recitals and competitions between 2013 and 2015, including a high-profile debut with the China Philharmonic Orchestra in November 2014, playing Chopin’s E Minor Concerto at the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing.
Despite his obvious credentials, it’s that strong Chinese connection that has Yun’s win stirring up mutterings of favouritism, as reported in the media. The competition stipulates that the jurors cannot also be the teachers of any of the competitors, all aged between 17 and 28. However, reports pointed out that Yoheved Kaplinsky, chair of the jury, is a lecturer and teacher at Julliard, and head of the Pre-College department where Yun studies.
Along with the usual sour grapes, some also felt that Yun, who played with the China Philharmonic in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as in a high-profile televised New Year’s concert early in 2019, was the competition’s favourite local son from the outset. He also performed at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing for the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American leadership organization, in July 2016 in a solo recital.
While it was the first ever iteration of the international competition, most observers expect that the new competition and high-profile for classical music is a sign of things to come. China’s relationship to Western classical music has been expanding exponentially for decades, and it is now estimated that about 40 million Chinese kids study the piano alone.