Leeds International Piano Competition entry #8: The Magic of Eric Lu

I love Eric Lu.

I think I first came across Eric when he played in the Chopin Competition around four years back. He got 4th prize, and he was only 17 then. Now, at the age of 20, he has come back to grace the stage in Leeds with his presence, bringing with him his passion for Chopin.

Chopin’s works are in almost every single one of his performances in the Leeds. I know he was going to play the composer’s Second Piano Concerto in the final round, but since all candidates of the Leeds must put forth two concertos for the final round, the jury decided he should play Beethoven’s Fourth instead. No complaints from me.

I don’t think his playing is the most mature I’ve heard in the competition. For maturity I would look to the likes of Florian Caroubi (who unfortunately didn’t make it to the semis), Mario Haring, or perhaps Aljosa Jurinic. Yet his playing is extremely sincere, and at his most sincere, he brings me closer to Chopin’s music than I’ve ever felt.

What I like about Eric is his complete lack of pretense. He does not rely on any form of showing-off. All he cares about is playing the music he loves. None of the repertoire he chooses is incredibly difficult, yet his performance draws me in all the same. And it shows on his face when he performs. Most of the time his eyes are closed, and I know all he cares about is concentrating in the moment, not about how he or his playing comes across.

The first Chopin piece he played in the competition is Chopin’s Barcarolle, which I mentioned in my review of the first round. It shows us that beneath that serene, child-like expression lies a great depth of subtle passion and sensitivity. He then played Chopin’s Fourth Ballade in the second round. The Ballade has long been one of my favourite pieces by the composer, and Eric really did it justice. He told an amazing story with his fingers, taking the audience in by developing the plot slowly. One moment we are listening to an exquisite melody, the next we are brought to heaven, and then suddenly we are plunged into the ferocious and passionate coda that concludes the Ballade, and Eric does all this without us noticing any change at all.

But it is his performance of Chopin’s Second Piano Sonata in the semifinal round that really was an otherworldly experience for me, particularly the third movement–the famous Funeral March.

If not magic, then I don’t know what else could explain how his playing left me spellbound through the screen, half a globe away.

The Funeral March has never been an exciting point of the Sonata for me, that’s because it really isn’t. Yes, the harmony is ominous and the melody of the contrasting middle section is beautiful, but the truth is it’s nowhere near as technically exciting as the other three movements. But what I loved most about Eric’s performance was precisely the Funeral March. When he got to the middle section in D flat major, I literally stopped everything I was doing and just watched the screen. It was mesmerizing. I know this sounds stupid, but his playing was so beautiful I wanted to cry, and I couldn’t figure out why (of course I didn’t cry, I’m a MAN!). I always thought that humans must go through tragedy or great suffering to produce beautiful art, and when Eric played I wondered what the 20-year-old could have possibly gone through to play something like that. Maybe this is what artistic genius is. You can convey the experience just as well without having experienced it. Eric’s face is so calm (okay, maybe twitching and contorting a bit, but all pianists do that) and yet his playing speaks a completely different story.

Afterwards, the hostess of medici.tv Lucy Parham spoke my thoughts when she said that Eric’s performance silenced everyone in the hall, enough so that you could hear a pin drop, and not one of the judges wrote anything down during that time. If not magic, then I don’t know what else could explain how his playing left me spellbound through the screen, half a globe away. And to know that I could experience this magical moment again simply by watching the replay, as if this magic transcends time, is quite something. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for the audience in the hall at the time.

Maybe you’d think I’m exaggerating a bit, and maybe I really am, but the thing is, it’s hard to put music into words, because music describes precisely what cannot be put into words. At least, I think the music of Chopin does.

Do check out Eric’s wonderful semifinal performance here and listen for yourselves: https://leedspiano2018.medici.tv/replay/semi-final-with-eric-lu/ 

He’s also going to be closing the competition with his performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto on Saturday night. I don’t know any concerto that would suit him more (except for the Chopin Concertos, perhaps).

Screenshot (2)
Eric Lu in his element

Photo source: medici.tv

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