Johnson Li started playing piano at the age of four because he loved (and still loves) music. He practices at least six hours a day, and believes that practicing effectively is something that is attained only though a lifelong pursuit. His prolific list of performances as a pianist attests to his talent and dedication. Here is a rundown of some of his accomplishments:
At the age of seven, he started studying at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and studied under Eleanor Wong.
He made his concerto debut at the age of nine; he has since performed with orchestras including the Philharmonic Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, China Philharmonic and Shanghai Symphony, Guangzhou Symphony, and Shenzhen Symphony.
At the age of 10, he appeared with Lang Lang on Fox 5 and performed with him at Carnegie Hall. It was reported by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
At the age of 12, he toured Japan with the China Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Long Yu.
At the age of 12, he performed at the "2015 Global Citizen Awards". Participants in the ceremony included former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, and the former President of Columbia, Juan Emanuel Santos.
At the age of 14, he worked with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra during a performance in "Swire Symphony Under The Stars" at the Central Harbourfront in Hong Kong, with an audience of more than 20,000 people. It was broadcast live on radio and television.
At the age of 13, he performed Beethoven's first piano concerto under the baton of Christopher Eschenbach with the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra.
At the age of thirteen, he went to the United States to begin his studies at the pre-college division of The Juilliard School under Robert McDonald.
Johnson has achieved so much at the age of 16. Yet, he remains a humble and hardworking student. Read on to learn about how he came to York Prep, his favorite subject and hobbies, his daily schedule, and his insightful advice.
When did you start playing the piano? How did you start?
I started to play the piano when I was four years old. I chose it because I gradually grew more and more interested in the keyboard after listening to my father's records. I remember that one of the very first recordings I heard was of Horowitz playing Schumann. I started having lessons with a relatively unknown teacher from a city in Guangdong, where we were living in China at the time.
What inspires you as a pianist?
It isn't very easy to put into words, but I would say one of the most prominent things that inspires me is the possibility to be able to communicate something genuine to the listener. For me, this is only possible when I do the right kind of work when I practice, and only then can I try to be compelling and spontaneous on stage.
What was one of your most recent performances?
I performed Beethoven's Pastoral Sonata, Op. 28, and Brahms' first piano Sonata, Op. 1 at Morse Hall at Juilliard.
What grade are you in?
I am currently in 11th grade.
When did you enter York Prep?
I started in 9th grade. I was previously in Hong Kong and came to New York to study piano at Juilliard.
Why did you choose York Prep?
During my visit to the school, I learned that York could accommodate my piano practicing schedule. I like the flexibility that allows me to be a student while I am in York and a pianist outside of school. I usually practice every day from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm, then I eat and do my homework until 1:00 am. That still gives me about seven hours of sleep!
What clubs and/or sports do you (and did you) participate in here?
I am a member of the Photography and Shakespeare clubs, which I try to go to when I have the time.
What are your interests and hobbies outside of school, and how do you pursue them?
In addition to piano, I enjoy photography and painting. I like to shoot on film and spend time in the darkroom. I enjoy the process of mixing the chemicals to develop the photos, and it's almost therapeutic. My favorite darkroom is on 28th street.
Tell us about any outside projects or events that you are working on outside of school.
I go to Juilliard twice a week and every Saturday.
Who do you look up to at York?
I enjoy the company of Mr. Roper.
What are three characteristics that you aspire to embody? How do you (and did you) apply these characteristics to your student life?
I value participation, the ability to think well, and the ability to transform things you learn into something that belongs to you.
What is your favorite subject, and why? / Who is your favorite teacher(s) and why?
I enjoy most of my classes this year because of my teachers. I believe that the enjoyment of subjects depends a great deal on how they’re taught. If the subjects are not enjoyable, then there has to be something wrong with the teaching. My Constitutional Law class provides the perfect workload, and it is an extremely fair class where the material is being prepared each night and quizzed the next day immediately. Mr. Roper is electric when he teaches. He also makes himself available to students outside of class.
What has been your best memory at York? What moment/achievement are you most proud of?
My best memories here would have to be certain conversations I have had with people.
If you could give advice to yourself as a student entering York Prep, what would it be?
Of course, one has to care, but one also has to be careful about caring too much at the same time. When you care too much, things get too complicated. This is something I gathered through experience.