Just in: US favourite pulls out of Chopin Competition

Just in: US favourite pulls out of Chopin Competition


norman lebrecht

August 19, 2015

The American pianist George Li, second prizewinner at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, has withdrawn from October’s Chopin Competition because too many good dates have been coming in.

Short-term, you can see why he has done it. But the long term benefits of winning the Chopin are fare greater than a second place – or even a first – in Moscow.

Here’s his announcement:

george li1


Today, August 18, 2015, I am publicly announcing my withdrawal from the XVII International Chopin Competition.

This is truly the most painful and most regrettable decision I have ever had to make.

Participating in the great International Chopin Competition in Warsaw has been one of my biggest dreams since childhood. Indeed, I actually took a gap year in 2014-2015 from the Harvard-NEC dual-degree program in order to properly prepare for this competition. I participated in the United States qualifying Chopin Competition in Miami this spring and was honored to have been awarded third prize. I also traveled to Warsaw in April to perform in the preliminary round of the International Chopin Competition and was selected to compete in the first round this fall. After returning from Moscow, where I was honored with the silver medal in the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition, I was focused and ready to prepare for the International Chopin Competition with complete joy and determination.

However, to my complete surprise, things started to change over the summer. I have been receiving many engagement requests – all of which are irresistibly important to my career as they are from the world’s premiere presenters, greatest conductors, and top-class venues.

At this point, I simply can’t turn down the honor of these requests; I feel that to do so would threaten my developing musical career!

Unfortunately, it’s also quite apparent to me that after accepting these engagements, I just won’t have the time and focus to be able to fully commit and prepare for the Chopin Competition. To me, not being able to fully prepare and perform at my highest level is disrespectful to the great International Chopin Competition and, therefore, is unacceptable!

For that reason, I have painfully and regrettably made the decision to withdraw from the 2015 International Chopin Competition. However, I am not ready to completely give up my dream. Should circumstances allow, I am planning on re-entering the next competition, which is to be held in 2020.

Sincerely yours,



  • tess says:

    I wonder which premier presenters and conductors plan their concerts between now and October. Oh, never mind.

    • Anon says:

      Tess – Gergiev did extend invitations to several of the contestants to be his soloist at various orchestras throughout the Fall and George could certainly have been one of them!

      • Derek Castle says:

        Gergiev is bringing George Li and the much admired Lucas Debargue to Symphony Hall, Birmingham, for a ‘winners’ concert 🙂

    • Pianotrotter says:

      What a stupid comment! Entering the Warsaw competition would mean practicing a 2-hour Chopin program for the next 2 months, whereas putting it aside means he can practice a larger, more varied repertoire for his professional engagements.

  • Tweettweet says:

    I don’t agree. If he really has some good and important concerts, choosing concerts above competition is preferred. It is a good sign that shows he is not a typical ‘competition pianist’. And the pressure of all expectations when competing in another competition after winning a top prize at the Tchaikovsky is awful.

    I wish him all the best, and I hope many agents and conductors will recognize his musicianship!

    • shirley kirsten says:

      Well said and totally agree! George does not need the competition loop.

      • da96103 says:

        Firstly, must greet my friend (waves at Shirley).

        Secondly, disagree with Norman’s statement: But the long term benefits of winning the Chopin are fare greater than a second place – or even a first – in Moscow.
        [Reference, Avdeeva Chopin 2010 vs Trifonov Tchaik 2011. Both are doing well, and arguably Trifonov is doing better than Avdeeva at the moment.]

        As far as piano competitions are concerned (as well as other instruments), some editions are dodgy and still being argued/ debated/ analyzed to this day (Chopin 2010, Tchaik 2015 and etc). If George Li had come out of Tchaik 2015 (despite the dodginess) with concert offers that would be adequate to his development as a world renowned pianist, he should take it. A bird in hand is better than two in the bush. If he does not win Chopin 2015, he could lose the goodwill that he had earned from Tchaik 2015.

        Good luck to George Li. And one day I shall go and watch him live.

    • GeeCeeBee says:

      The reason why he pulled out Of the more prestigious Chopin competition I feel is, he knows deep down that he is not a great interpreter of Chopin, and to finish out of the top 10, which I feel he would have, would have be detrimental to his 2nd place finish in the Tchaikovsky competition. It was a smart move to pursue his concertizing career for that reason.

  • Dan says:

    As stated, he can do the Chopin competition again in 2020. He has more to lose if he doesn’t make it to the final rather than withdrawing. One could possibly think his brilliantly virtuoso playing doesn’t fit yet the Chopin competition or, more accurately, doesn’t fit the jury. Also, is not about engagements now but also about engagements for future seasons that, even for somebody as talented as him, require good and solid preparation.

    Well played George 🙂

  • Fryderyk says:

    George Li also dropped out of the Leeds, or in any case he was still listed there a few weeks back.

  • anon says:

    Good for him, and good for us that we won’t have to put up with his obnoxious fanbase the whole competition!

  • Grenville G says:

    It’s worth remembering that the Chopin Competition is precisely that, a COMPETITION.
    There are no guarantees of winning.
    Favourites in any field, be they Novak Djokovic, Jordan Spieth or George Li, don’t always win.
    GL has already got plenty of attention and apparently got some good dates in the diary.
    Would a Second, Third or Fourth Place in the Chopin really help?

  • Vocalise says:

    George Li is a wise man. Winning in Warsaw means playing 150 concerts per year, which no 19 year old is ready to do. He already has plenty of 1st class engagements to look forward to, and he can finish his studies at Harvard – so, he can continue to develop as an artist, rather than burn out –as so many 7-day wonders do. And yes, he can enter the Chopin Competition again when he’s 24. (Martha Argerich was 24 when she won the Chopin Competition in 1965). But most likely he won’t need it by then.

  • Mlka says:

    He could have just announced his withdrawal without all the” BS” reasons as if his
    presence mattered one way or the other . Just another piano thumper ……….

    • Daniel F. says:

      I usually see eye to eye with you, Milka. I suspect that this “over-the-top” statement was required of him, and probably written by his “management”. While it is more than depressing to think that a promising 19 year-old already has “management,” it is the way of the world. Also: George Li has the potential to become a lot more than what you call a “piano thumper”. He just might turn out to be one of the very few real deals in our midst.

      • Milka says:

        Wish I could share your opinion on Li – having heard Li, his playing for my taste leaves me
        quite underwhelmed , & his Chopin leaves much to be desired.He has dates to fill
        which in a fashion can be considered “artificial ” third prize winner dates …these dates
        as career dates mean nothing, more like pity dates. Unless one is “rehired ” again and again for future concerts it all adds up to little …and so on to the next prize winner . There
        are hundreds of prize winners who go nowhere so Mr. Li is careful not to enter the
        Chopin and risk not gaining the first prize which would put him further back in the prize
        bookings game .Let’s hope your faith in him makes liars out of us who find him wanting .

  • Mark Morrison says:

    As far as I’m concerned, the entire purpose of entering competitions is not to make a career of it, but to have a career of performing actual recitals and concerti. If one performs well, that’s how one builds a career. Whether one wins the Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Leeds, or one of the other top competitions, the goal is to have a good amount of “real” concerts. If George Li is getting those concerts with his Tchaikovsky win, what’s the point of entering another competition? If’s not as if winning any particular competition guarantees concerts for life. A “poor” performance (e.g. not winning the top prize) at the Chopin could only work against GL. He’s making the right decision.

    • John says:

      Well put. It is so sad watching pianists bankrupt their careers reentering competitions essentially trashing/bankrupting their careers.

      Once a pianist wins a competition, they need to be able to generate a career from it. If they can’t, they usually gobble any opportunities they are given and then reenter another competition. They just want everything handed to them. George Li almost says this word for word. It might as well read, “I want to eat up all the opportunities I have now, and if they run out I will enter the following Chopin”

  • Enrique Sanchez says:

    George Li made the right decision. Momentum is not to be taken lightly, but should be seized while the iron is hot. I support his decision.

  • Eric M says:

    George has a very slim chance on winning 2015; the bench this year is so incredibly deep, I don’t think I have ever seen so many great pianists compete in one competition – ever.

    Nothing wrong with going again at 2020 when he’s more mature, it’s not like he’s going to break youngest winner even if he wins 2015.

    I wonder if Aimi Kobayashi or Umi Garret would medal (slim chance also), I have been listening to these 3 since 10 years ago when they were literally still 2 feet tall.