Champion pianist finds the keys to success
Eric Lu Yixuan is the youngest and first Chinese-American winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition in the United Kingdom.
The 21-year-old gave a concert at the Shanghai Grand Theatre on Dec 14, presenting the same program he performed for the final round of the competition, which took place in September.
Lu said performing the concert gave him greater freedom than he had in the competition, “as no jury was present.”
He toured three cities in China before the concert, and said playing the same pieces repeatedly enhanced his understanding of the music.
Lu gave an interview in Shanghai before the concert, speaking quietly about the difficult competition in Leeds and growing up in a musicloving household in Massachusetts, the United States.
Between rounds of the competition, he panicked when he developed a high fever. “I had prepared for this competition for a year, and I would have regretted it if I had failed because I was ill,” he said.
On the day he was due to play, he recovered in the early afternoon, and felt clearheaded, although his fingers were still stiff. He had five hours before he played, so he practiced for the whole time.
“This was a very important moment, and I knew I could overcome my illness,” he said. “But by the end of the 75-minute program, my brain was completely ‘toasted’.”
His program consisted of Schubert’s Four Impromptus, Chopin’s Ballad No 4 and Sonata No 2, and Mozart’s Rondo.
The choice was made partly because of Lu’s competition strategy, and more important, they were pieces that he loved.
Before winning first prize and the gold medal at the Leeds competition, Lu claimed fourth prize at the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, the Polish capital, in 2015, when he was 17. Along with the Chopin competition, the Leeds one is among the most recognized musical events in the world. It was founded in 1961 and is held every three years.
Lu is among the many musicians who have given recitals at the Shanghai Grand Theatre after winning international competitions.
In recent decades, a growing number of Chinese and other musicians from Asia have won competitions and achieved great success in the musical world.
In Lu’s view, this has sent a clear message that “we are equally capable of playing classical music, even though it is not part of our tradition or culture”.
He believes that one of his most important qualities as a musician is how he intuitively interprets music. “There have been many epiphany moments when I felt I understood the music more than before,” he said.
“This is a continuous process. When you go through different experiences in life, you can have a deeper understanding of the great composers such as Schubert, Bach, Chopin and Mozart.
“Music is deeply personal, but also universal at the same time, which is why it has been so beloved over the centuries.”
A review in UK newspaper The Guardian of Lu’s first recital in Britain after the Leeds competition said his performance “showed the kind of grace and wisdom that usually comes only with great age.”
The article described Lu as “one of the most exciting prospects in a long time.”
Lu was born in Massachusetts in 1997 to a Chinese immigrant family. His father comes from Taiwan and his mother from Shanghai.
Both are computer engineers who love music, especially his father, who collected many classical records in his younger days.
“We had hundreds of records around the house,” Lu said.
His sister, who is two years older than Lu, was the first in the family to play piano. The local teacher, who came from Shanghai, was “wonderful,” and Lu, who was 4 at the time, was intrigued.
At age five and half, Lu started to take piano lessons. “I wanted to learn,” he said of the start of his life in music.
“It was my idea. I was lucky to have great parents who were not too pushy and were highly supportive of me.”
The love of music has taken up most of Lu’s life. He considered that listening to recordings and attending live concerts was his hobby, and although he supported a local basketball team and followed the career of LeBron James as a loyal fan, he could not play the game himself, as it would have risked injuring his hands.
He has no regrets though. “Because of music, I’ve been able to travel the world and visit so many places and see so many cultures. It’s quite a joyful part of my life,” he said.
Winning the prestigious first prize at the Leeds competition has brought drastic changes to his life.
He has begun to learn about the business side of music and deal with different relationships, and now has a hectic international tour schedule.
“I have always wanted to have a career as a serious concert pianist,” he said. “I hope I can continue and that I can handle it.”