Young Chinese pianist speaks out after sexist online tirade

‘People think women should be more conservative in some way, but I think men and women should be seen as equal in the classical music industry’ – Sunny Li

Sunny Li

Sunny Li

A 25-year-old Chinese pianist has spoken out following a stream of sexist comments after she caught public attention by playing Rachmaninov’s arrangement of Flight of the Bumblebee on two pianos simultaneously in a video that was shared by British radio station Classic FM.

But it was another 1.43-minute video shared on Classic FM’s Facebook page that showed tiny-framed Li – dressed down in jeans, a jumper and heels, and straddling a stool to enable her to play two keyboards at once – that turned into a sexual tirade.

Li says she was upset by the comments and had never been at the receiving end of such abuse in her homeland of China. She had intended to create a fun video that bridges music with style and fashion in order to reach a younger ‘streetwise’ audience but the comments (a sample of which have been reproduced below) left her feeling upset and confused.

A selection of Facebook comments following Sunny Li’s online video

Cassandro Chlorus: “no! this is not only #incredible!! it’s also very..very #sexy!!! :D”

Wachee Chw “Now thats a weird way to play. Should have worn a skirt lmao”

Petros Kefallinos “You see how easy she spread her legs? Now i know what i need to buy to get any girl i want! 2 grand pianos…”

Seth Leondrau Amenra: “It would have been better if she was naked.”

Javad Javadzade: “it is very erotic :-)”

Nick Spade: “I wanna play her too”

Natalia Stetsenko: “Sexy ? -yes. music ? -non. No need to make porno with piano, please!”

Li said she feels strongly about equality and encouraging people to play the piano. The London-based pianist, who has played at The Royal Albert Hall, is now touring the UK with her latest album Sunny Li Pianos available to buy on iTunes.

Sunny Li – the dressed down performance that sparked a deluge of sexist remarks.

Sunny Li – the dressed down performance that sparked a deluge of sexist remarks.

Here we ask Sunny Li about her experiences as a young female artist working in the classical music industry:

What did you think of the comments left following the video?
It didn’t really occur to me to think that people would find it provocative; it was simply the position I had to adopt in order to use the pedals and play both pianos at the same time.

I felt a bit upset to be honest because a lot of people were against me and saying derogatory things like ‘women shouldn’t play [like] this’, as though I wasn’t respecting classical music. Luckily, I received many positive comments that outweighed the bad ones. I’m getting over it now by going out on tour and sharing my music.

Have you experienced this form of discrimination before?
I’ve been studying piano for more than 20 years and in my experience [public reception] is not the same as when I started out. I’ve always received the occasional bad comment, especially when I first started performing, but this is the first time I’ve been discriminated against in this way. This was the first time I played the piano in this way, and it is the first time I’ve received this many negative comments.

Do you think a man playing two pianos (wearing jeans for example as you do) would have attracted the same kind of comments?
I don’t think he would. People think women should be more conservative in some way, but I think men and women should be seen as equal in the classical music industry.

It’s the modern day: there’s no reason why women can’t play like men. I had no intention to make the video seem sexual; I played like this for the sake of the music and for fun.

What do you have to say to other female musicians out there?
Just that music can be played in various ways and do what you’re happy to do. Be yourself!

Has it made you feel self-conscious about your public appearances?
Not really, I’m proud of who I am and what I’ve achieved. After the video went viral everyone started to recognise me in the industry. When I go to the Royal Academy of Music, everyone knows me now and they are impressed by the way I played in the Classic FM video.

I’m not embarrassed and would definitely do a similar video again. Hopefully it might inspire the younger generation to experiment with the way you can play and make classical music more appealing. At my last concert I played a piece from the Hollywood film La La Land – by combining this with classical pieces I’m hoping that more younger people will become interested by classical music.

The classical music industry thrives on youth and good looks, what can it do to make women feel more supported?
The classical music industry is a very small circle because there’s not a lot of classical music fans out there! We must try our best to continue to keep the spirit of classical music going and that means making everyone feel welcome.

Classical music needs female sensitivity and masculine power. There are plenty of talented female musicians, like Martha Argerich, who play just as well, if not better than men.

Sunny Li

Sunny Li

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