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First prize comes as a surprise to winner of Bachauer contest
Li loves piano — and is also an ace in table tennis

When Yun Di Li entered the Gina Bachauer Young Artists Piano Competition two weeks ago, he didn't expect that he would walk away with first prize.

This is surprising, when you consider the prizes and awards Li has won in competitions around the world over the past four years, including third place in the Liszt Piano Competition in Holland last March, in which he had to compete against adults.Pretty good for a 16-year-old boy from Shen Zhen, China, who's only been playing the piano for nine years.

But, then again, it's as if all he ever wanted to do was play the piano.

Speaking in broken English, Li told the Deseret News that many people in China study classical piano. "Many people like classical music in China," he says. "There is a lot of classical music on the radio."

Li's goal is to become a concert pianist. And to that end he devotes much of his free time to practicing his instrument. "When I am not in school," he says, "I play six or seven hours every day. When I am in school, I only play four hours a day."

That makes his mother very happy. In some ways it is she who steers her son to the piano and keeps him focused on his goal, when he would rather be doing something else.

"I like table tennis," Li confides. "I play a lot of hours, and I am the best (player) in my school. But my mother says to me, 'Play piano and not table tennis!' She likes classical music, too."

After winning first prize in the Bachauer competition, Li phoned home and told his parents and teacher. "They were happy and proud of me." Especially his teacher, Dan Zhao Yi, who had told him about the Bachauer competition.

"My teacher also told me about the Chopin competition in Warsaw (Poland) in 2000. I want to go, but we will see."

Chopin is one of Li's favorite composers. And Liszt figures prominently on his list of favorites,

too. It was in fact his performance of the Liszt E flat major concerto that won for him first prize in the recently completed Young Artists Competition. "I learned the Liszt concerto one and a half years ago," Li notes, "and I also played it at the Liszt competition (in Holland)."

Li flies to Oklahoma Monday morning, where he'll give two concerts at the University of Central Oklahoma. These performances are a direct result of his winning the Bachauer. In the audience will be two representatives from North Texas University to hear Li play.

From Oklahoma, Li then travels to Honolulu, where he gets a chance to relax and "horse around" as he puts it, before boarding a plane for home.

But before he leaves Utah, Li wants to thank his host family for their generosity. "My (host) gave me a piano and a bedroom and delicious food.

"This was also a good 'music house,' " he adds, "there were a lot of CDs here for me to listen to."

And it might not be too far-fetched to think that local audiences might get another opportunity to hear Li perform, the next time the adult Bachauer competition returns in 2002.