Eric Lu went from a promising student pianist at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to a stellar solo artist in almost the blink of an eye, winning the 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition. Now he is 24, but he is still struggling to breathe. Lou will perform a recital at the Union College Memorial Chapel on Sunday 5 December as part of a classical music cycle in the Metropolitan Area.
“It was difficult,” Lou said. “Winning the competition radically changed my life. This catapulted my career. But I’ve always dreamed about it. This is what I wanted. “
Lou became the first American to win the competition since Murray Perahia in 1972. In addition to a record deal with Warner Classics, management around the world, a series of “exciting” concerts and an estimated $ 34,000, Lou’s life has been shaped over the past two years. He is a BBC Next Generation Artist – one of seven musicians selected annually from around the world who are on the cusp of an international career that the organization is helping to sustain; he released a solo disc of works by Mozart, Schubert and Brahms on the Genuin Classics label; he began to replace other pianists at concerts, including Martha Argerich in Singapore, Nelson Freire in Brazil and Christian Bezuidenhout in Sweden; his numerous recitals have become the main musical event in the United Kingdom; his first studio album, Warner Classics, featuring works by Chopin, Brahms and Schumann, received Best Instrumental Recording of the Month from BBC Music Magazine; and this year he received a $ 25,000 Avery Fisher Career Grant, which is awarded annually to five outstanding musicians. And all this is not counting the numerous recitals and performances at concerts that he arranges every week.
“The hardest part is keeping your level,” Lou said. “But besides traveling, I’m having a good time.”
His passion for music began when he was a child.
“No one was a musician in the family, but my father loved classical music. We had a lot of tapes in our house, ”Lou said. “My sister was three years older and took piano lessons. I was intrigued by her lessons. Luckily we had a good local teacher. I was also drawn to listen to music. “
Lu attended public school and was ready to study at Curtis by the age of 15, where he combined his high school diploma with college-level music studies. However, he remembers the competition in Leeds and what he went through.
“The first round was in New York. I had to prepare two programs, and the judges chose one, and I had to play it completely, ”he said.
There were 68 participants and nine judges, including pianist Paul Lewis, who was also co-artistic director of the festival that year, and pianist Shai Vosner, both known locally. The judges reduced the number to 24 pianists. The remaining three rounds took place in Leeds, England.
Lu said the pressure was high, especially because he had “high hopes for himself.” But he had the advantage. When he was 17 years old, he participated in the National Competition. Chopin in the United States and won a prize that gave him certain opportunities, and in 2017 he won the International German Piano Prize, awarded out of less than ten pianists. Although he still had two more years to study at Curtis, the way the school curriculum worked also benefited him.
“What was unique about Curtis was that he allowed flexibility so I could get the experience outside of school,” Lou said. “Since I was in the last part of my research, it helped. I didn’t have any management, but I could play the recitals requested by the promoters. “
This included a 2017 recital at the Union College Memorial Chapel as one of two Curtis Institute musicians to be the focus of the current series. Lou said that knowledge of the hall and the piano was only a plus for him.
Now that he performs in public almost constantly, he said that he knows how important it is to support yourself.
“I’m trying to balance things. … “My free time is quite normal,” he said, laughing. “I go out with friends and family when I am in Boston. I love sports and follow Boston teams. I act in films and go for walks. But in my travels I found special places: Singapore, which I love; I love cultural centers. … … London, Amsterdam, Paris. I love Germany in general and live part-time in Berlin. “
It is especially important what kind of music he plays: “I put quality first, and in solo concerts I play what I like,” he said. Schubert is at the top of his list, this is what he will perform in his December program: Sonata in A major, which is 75 minutes long; and his Sonata in A minor, which lasts about 25 minutes. There is no intermission. Lou chose them out of love and because he would soon write them down.
“I want to play Schubert for the rest of my life,” Lou said.
He also plays “a lot” of Chopin, Schumann and “would like to play more Bach.” For the next several months, Lou focused on recording and developing a new spring solo program and preparing for the January chamber music concert in Philadelphia with the trio. He said that sometime in the future he might think about entrusting the composer to write a piece for him, which would be “an honor for me.” In the meantime, he does it day after day.
“I take it as it is,” Lou said.
Eric Lu, pianist
WHEN: 03:00 pm, Sunday, December 5th.
WHERE: Union College Memorial Chapel
HOW MUCH: $ 35
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: www.capitalregionclassical.org; 518-941-4331
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