Cham­pion pi­anist finds the keys to suc­cess

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By ZHANG KUN in Shang­hai [email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

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.”

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