Grant Park Orchestra review: George Li plays Chopin brilliantly

George Li
Chicago Tribune

By Howard Reich

Every pianist must come to terms with music of Chopin, whose scores extended the possibilities of the instrument in ways still being explored to this day.

But few pianists dispatch Chopin’s work as poetically, idiomatically or dexterously as George Li, who made his Grant Park Orchestra debut Wednesday night at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

In a performance that must be termed extraordinary, Li brought to Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor so much of what one hopes to hear in this work: heartfelt lyricism, unruffled virtuosity, moments of high drama and deep introspection and something more, as well: individuality.

For though the pianist lucidly articulated the fundamentals and subtleties of Chopin style — the performance practices that Chopin’s music demands — Li continuously surprised listeners. The way Li shaped phrases, the moments he chose to slightly hold back a tempo (or briefly rush ahead with it) and the voicings he brought forth on the keyboard were distinctly and autobiographically his own. At age 22, he sounded as if he has long lived with this piece.

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