The question is whether the classical-music market has narrowed to the point where only a Chinese Liberace or “Chopinzee” (to adopt the term that James Huneker used to describe the 1920s exhibitionistic keyboard antics of Vladimir de Pachmann) can survive. Is it possible for fine artistry to coexist at a time when dazzling, if empty, display is exalted? In the era of the ubiquitous Hollywood star pianist JosÃ© Iturbi (1895-1980), audiences still flocked to see sober, unflashy pianists like Rudolf Serkin or Benno Moiseiwitsch, masterly musicians who would never be mistaken for pop performers.
Deutsche Grammophon’s dismissal of Yundi Li is only the latest in a series of cases where musical achievement does not equal a recording contract. About a decade ago, Sony Classical dismissed the supremely refined Taiwan-born violinist Cho-Liang Lin (b. 1960), according to Mr. Lin himself, because he was unwilling and/or unable to record the quasi-pop “crossover” works that have kept the cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the Billboard charts.