Winner of the 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition, Eric Lu became just the second American to take those honors since Murray Perahia in 1972. Shortly thereafter, the Guardian called Lu “a veritable poet of the keyboard. He already seems to possess the magic touch of early Leeds laureates Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu. Lu surely is one of the most exciting prospects in a long time.”
Four years later, the pianist, now 24, can't quite believe his good fortune. “Winning the competition changed my life in a drastic way. It catapulted my career,” Lu said in a recent interview. “But I’d always dreamed of this. It’s what I wanted.”
Last year, Lu received the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, a prize of $25,000, given annually to five musicians of outstanding achievement. In 2019, he became a BBC Next Generation Artist — one of seven musicians worldwide deemed to be on the cusp of an international career. Warner Classics signed Lu to a contract and released his recital disc, featuring works by Chopin and Schumann, in 2020.
He will perform Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 when he makes his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut in concerts Oct. 6-8, conducted by Riccardo Muti. He replaces Maurizio Pollini, who withdrew due to illness.
Born in Massachusetts, Lu entered the Curtis Institute of Music when he was just 15. “No one was a musician in the family, but my dad loved classical music. We had lots of records in the house,” he said. His older sister studied the piano. “I became intrigued by her lessons. Fortunately, we had a good local teacher. I was also drawn to listening to music.”
At 17, he competed in the 2015 U.S. National Chopin Competition, and in 2017, he won the International German Piano Award. Then came the Leeds, followed by a series of worldwide engagements, including Wigmore Hall in London, the BBC Proms, the Hollywood Bowl and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. (He made his Chicago-area debut in 2019 at Northwestern University's Skyline Piano Artist Series, as a last-minute replacement for Alexander Toradze.)
The late Classical- and Romantic-era composers, especially Schubert, remain his favorites. “I put quality first, and in recitals I perform what I like,” Lu said. “I want to play Schubert for the rest of my life.”