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Christian Li: The young Harry Potter fan on his music stardom

Like many 12-year-old schoolboys, Christian Li likes Harry Potter, The Hobbit and Angry Birds.

But what sets him apart is his gift for the violin.

“I feel most happy and confident when I’m playing the violin,” he says. “I can express my feelings.”

And it has made him a classical music superstar.

Born in Melbourne to Chinese parents, Christian first picked up a violin at the age of five. It was by no means inevitable.

“My parents don’t play musical instruments. They are not musical,” he says. “My mum is an accountant and my dad is an engineer.”

But within weeks he had been chosen to play the violin in a television advert in China for powdered milk.

And by the age of 10, Christian had made history, becoming the youngest-ever winner of the Menuhin competition, the world’s leading violin competition.

“I was actually quite surprised, I didn’t expect to win such a prestigious competition,” he says modestly. “I didn’t think about winning, I just thought about playing.”

The video of his performance, on a half-size violin, of Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has since attracted millions of views online.

The self-possessed youngster does admit: “I get a little bit nervous just before I get onto stage but after I start playing I’m fine.”

And he is helped by a ritual which makes him “feel a bit calmer … and gives me energy.”

He reveals: “I always eat a banana” before curtain up.

Now, at the age of 12, in another musical first, Christian has become the youngest artist signed by the Decca Classics record label.

For his first single he recorded the fiendishly difficult and technically demanding La Ronde Des Lutins or Dance of the Goblins, by the Italian composer and violinist Antonio Bazzini.

Christian says he had wanted to learn the piece since he first heard it a couple of years ago.

“I was really captivated. It was Maxim Vengerov, (one of the most celebrated contemporary violinists and Christian’s hero), and I think I watched the whole piece without even actually blinking.”

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‘Nine out of 10’

When it came to record it, Christian had to play it only twice.” I got it right the second time.”

He gives himself nine out of 10 for his performance. “I’m satisfied with it but there’s always room for improvement,” he insists.

And that is why Christian Li practises for four hours every day after school – and more at weekends.

“I just get used to it and I enjoy it and I feel a bit relieved after I’ve practised.”

If it sounds like all work and no play, he is keen to stress he does have spare time. He likes reading fiction, enjoying the “magical world” of Harry Potter and says he hope to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when he next comes to the UK.

BooknThe Harry Potter books provide a contrast to Christian’s hours of violin practice

“I like swimming, cycling and running” he says and plays computer games “a little, but not a lot” like Angry Birds, rather than ones which involve “fighting and bloody games.”

Although he makes an exception for “the classics like Michael Jackson,” he says “I do not really like listening to pop music very much.”

Instead he prefers listening to movie soundtracks “like Batman, Superman and Star Wars”.

“They are very dramatic and they have lots of power in that music and they’re classical as well.”

There is no doubt his workload is demanding. He has performed at festivals and venues all over the world including the Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall in New York.

Christian dreams of being “a professional concert violin soloist. I love to be travelling and playing exciting music with orchestras … that’s what I like to do.”

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But his burgeoning career has been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. He had, for example, been due to perform with the British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in August.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason
The performance with British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason has been postponed due to coronavirus

“All of my overseas trips and concert performances were now actually cancelled which is a little sad of course,” he says.

But Christian Li doesn’t seem like a boy who is downcast for long.

“Actually on the bright side I practise more technical things than before, like scales, etudes and caprices and I can build up my repertoire to have more pieces to play.”

But even this musical prodigy concedes: “I miss having an audience.”

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