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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 29, 2024

Pianist Eric Lu shares thoughts on Mozart, Boston, classical music ahead of BSO performance

Pianist Eric Lu is pictured.

Pianist Eric Lu will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall from April 6–8.

Eric Lu, only 25 years old, emerged as an international soloist after winning the prestigious 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition. Lu began playing piano at age 6 in Bedford, Mass., where he took lessons from Dorothy Shi. Soon he enrolled at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School, before leaving home for Philadelphia to attend the Curtis Institute of Music at 15 years old. Lu came to international attention as a prize winner at the 2015 Chopin Piano Competition in Poland and following his 2018 Leeds win, his career catapulted to what it is today. Now he tours around the world, making appearances with renowned orchestras such as the London Symphony, Shanghai Symphony and the Oslo Philharmonic. 

In advance of his upcoming BSO performance, the Daily spoke with Lu about growing up in Boston, playing Mozart and all things classical music. 

“I always like to have music in my life as often as possible, and then it’s a bit empty without it,” Lu said. 

One way that Lu incorporates music into his life is on nature walks. 

“The music really takes on such an enjoyable feeling in those moments,” Lu said about his walks. “There’s somehow this freshness I feel, and I often turn to composers like Bach or Mozart or Schubert in those kinds of settings.”

While Lu travels all over the world, he still finds solace in walking through Boston. 

“I love downtown Boston. It’s just so nice to be around, especially Boston Common and walking down Newbury Street,” Lu said. “Especially in springtime, it’s so wonderful.”

Having grown up attending BSO concerts, performing with them marks an especially noteworthy moment in Lu’s career.

“I left Boston when I was 15. But before that time, I would go [to the BSO], I would say at least once a month, sometimes more. I went to NEC Prep on Saturdays, and often just would stay back in the late afternoon, and go to the evening concert at 8 p.m. [in] Symphony Hall,” Lu remembered. “It's an extra special moment for me, on top of [the BSO] being such a world class orchestra.” 

In preparation for his BSO debut, Lu has been focusing on interpreting Mozart. 

“I think Mozart in general is always very difficult. It’s just the music is so particular in its language. … With [Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20], it’s such a unique piece among his output, it’s one of the two concertos in minor keys out of the 27. And he took on such a new expression here; it’s so extremely dramatic,” Lu said. “I love the piece so much, [there is] such a drive and such dramatism and storytelling. And then [Mozart] will suddenly change his face and then it will be the most beautiful moments and delightful moments. And always with a hint of the clouds above and some nights those clouds turn very stormy, and dark. I’m really excited to play this particular work for [my] BSO debut.”

Performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 holds special significance to Lu, as the piece was among his earliest musical memories. 

“My first, earliest memories [were] Mozart piano concertos. This one, D minor, and then No. 21, C major, … I remember hearing them for the first time, it was just such great music, it was so fresh,” Lu said.

Even after working for years on these pieces, Lu’s childlike wonder never wavers. 

“You never lose that freshness. … Let’s say when you’re sitting there in [Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20], and after the piano plays the opening of the third movement and then the orchestra has their big dramatic tutti, … you just sit there, and it’s like the planets. You’re gazing up at the stars and then suddenly this comet comes by. It’s really wonderful,” Lu said. “That’s ultimately the most important essence in music. It’s beyond all the intellect … it’s this wonderment, this immediacy of being touched and moved.” 

As Lu returns home to Massachusetts, this performance serves as a marker for the power and whimsy of music. With every piano flair, Lu inspires wonder. His performance with the BSO is sure to leave audience members “touched and moved.” That is the power of his craft.