Tuesday’s recital at Bass Hall actually won’t be the first time Li Yundi has played here in Fort Worth. The now-26-year-old native of Chongqing, China came to town in 2000 to perform as part of the TCU/Cliburn Piano Institute, which is now called Piano Texas.
Since then, he’s become famous enough to film his own Nike commercial riding a racing bike to get to a concert. The classical music world has pegged Li as the refined, subtle opposite of his showier and flashier (and some would say coarser) compatriot Lang Lang. There’s a grain of truth in this comparison, but it’s still a misleading one. The feathery-haired Li has his own streak of showmanship; check the YouTube video of him playing a ridiculous and very entertaining four-hand version of Mozart’s “Rondo alla turca” with pop singer/actor Jay Chou.
Li’s career to date has so far focused on Mozart, Chopin, and Liszt, and he’ll be giving us a dose of those composers in his program, which includes Chopin’s “Funeral March” Sonata and Liszt’s moody Ballade in B minor. However, he’ll also be throwing in something we haven’t heard from him: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, the suite of pieces inspired by a series of paintings that the 19th-century Russian composer saw in a gallery. How will Li’s sonic polish match with this proudly rough-hewn, ungainly yet powerful work? Finding out is just one reason to ride downtown and listen.
Li Yundi plays at 8pm Tue at Bass Performance Hall, 555 Commerce St, FW. Tickets are $15-90. Call 817-335-9000.