At 22 years old, pianist Tony Siqi Yun is taking the classical world by storm. A senior at Juilliard, he makes his debut with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra November 2 and 4.
He took a break after class to chat with us in a Juilliard practice room, piano at his side. “My constant companion,” he smiles.
Yun started playing piano when he was four and a half. He became First Prize Winner and Gold Medalist at the prestigious First China International Music Competition at 19 years old. The Canadian-born artist has now played with major orchestras around the world. He makes his Carnegie Hall debut next March with the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal.
It’s a stunningly successful career, all the more impressive for someone 22 years old. Was this what he dreamed of as a small child in Toronto?
“Growing up, I was the only musician in my family,” Yun says. “There wasn’t this idea of what a professional musician is, how the classical music industry works. But from the beginning I loved performing.”
Like most little kids, he did not like practicing. “But going to lessons, I’d take it as a concert. I liked how my parents and my teacher had to sit there for five minutes and just listen to me playing the music. I liked that feeling,” he smiles.
So while he didn’t have a clear vision of the life of a professional musician, he says a performing career definitely qualifies as a dream come true.
“Nothing makes me happier than bringing these works of music that I really love, that I really feel a connection to, to people all over the world,” he says. “And sensing while I’m playing that they too are being moved by the music in a very profound way.”
When Yun is not travelling, his days have a certain rhythm. Six hours of practice, his Julliard classes, exercise in Central Park, at least 45 minutes of reading (currently Proust), and at least five espressos. “It’s very bad, actually,” he says cheerfully. “I drink too much coffee.”
He always practices at school.
“I’m always last. They always have to kick me out of the building. They close at midnight and I always stay until 12:15 so they’re always mad at me, like, ‘Tony, get out here,’” he laughs. Once Juilliard is closed up, he goes home and does homework until 2 am. Then up at 8 am for class.
He’s looking forward to his evenings performing Tchaikovsky and Mozart with the ESO.
“I’ve known this orchestra for a long time, growing up in Toronto, so of course I’m really excited. It will also be my first time working with Maestro Michael Stern. I’m really looking forward to it.”
He’s especially pleased that, the day between his concerts, the ESO will be playing Mozart, so he can attend to watch.
And, crucially, there will be time to indulge one more passion.
“Everywhere I go, I look for the best coffee place I can find. It’s the most important thing besides the concert,” he laughs.
See Tony perform at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton, November 2 and 4. More details here.