Radu Lupu – born 70 years ago on November 30, 1945 – is a Romanian concert pianist. He is the winner of three of the most prestigious awards in the field of classical piano, the George Enescu International Piano Competition, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and Leeds International Pianoforte Competition.
Lupu was born into a Romanian-Jewish family in Galați, Romania, the son of Meyer Lupu, an attorney, and Ana Gabor, a linguist. He began piano studies in 1951, as a six-year-old, with Lia Busuioceanu, making his public debut in 1957, at age 12, in a concert featuring his own compositions. After completing high school in Galați, and graduating from the Popular School for the Arts in Brașov, where he studied harmony and counterpoint with Victor Bickerich, Lupu continued his piano studies at the Bucharest Conservatory (1959-1961) with Florica Musicescu (who also taught Dinu Lipatti), and Cella Delavrancea, studying also composition with Dragos Alexandrescu.
At the age of 16, in 1961, he was awarded a scholarship to the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with Heinrich Neuhaus (who also taught Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels), graduating in 1969, at age 24.
Lupu’s concert appearances and recordings for Decca, though infrequent, consist of a limited repertoire, but have been consistently acclaimed. Although trained in the Russian pianistic tradition, he is particularly noted for his interpretations of the great 19th century German and Austrian composers, especially Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven, and Mozart from the 18th century. He is also noted for performances of works by the Czech Janáček, and the Hungarian Bartok.
Three years after Lupu made his American debut in 1972 with the Cleveland Orchestra, with Daniel Barenboim conducting in New York City, and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Carlo Maria Giulini conducting, he performed a pair of Winter Season concerts with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, NY, under the baton of David Zinman. As the Assistant Manager of RPO, I picked Radu up from the local airport and drove him to his hotel. Thereafter I had plenty of opportunities (during his four days of rehearsals, local site visits under my wing and concertizing in our midst) of exchanging personal reminiscences with him: that included the fact that I’d competed at the very First Enescu International Piano Competition in Bucharest 9 years before he did – with very different outcomes! He took a joint first prize, while I, an Indian going by my stage name of Lewis (Azim) lost out by quite a margin to a Chinese pianist named Li (Ming-Qiang)! Also, we shared that one of our favorite solo pieces was by Schumann (heard here in a YouTube performance by him of Träumerei.)
Furthermore, I regaled him with my fond memories of touring the bucolic Rumanian countryside after the competition: the Carpathians, the Bucegi Mountains, and Sinaia, situated at 2,600 feet above sea level, where I stayed at the Composers’ Union Lodge with a magnificent view of the nearby Peles Castle, pictured alongside in the autumn.
Indeed, on my return to India thereafter, I was prevailed upon by a prominent Calcutta magazine to share with its readers my first-hand experience of Radu’s country and its musical tradition that eventually was published. You can read all about it here: Rumanian Reminiscences.
Whilst Lupu has performed with all of the major orchestras of the world and at major music festivals, he is somewhat of a reclusive figure. He has regularly refused to grant interviews to journalists for over 30 years. In one rare published interview, originally from 1991, Lupu expressed his philosophy of music-making as follows:
“Everyone tells a story differently, and that story should be told compellingly and spontaneously. If it is not compelling and convincing, it is without value.”
In his concert performances, Lupu does not use a piano bench, but instead an office chair. That propensity has inspired reams of jokes at his expense, but no more so than when the subject of fun was the legendary Canadian Glenn Gould, who used to use an extremely low bench that brought his face and hands almost up to keyboard-level without in any way detracting from the experience of his performance by an hypnotized audience of aficionados.
In my task as the factotum backstage, and in Radu’s case, I had to make sure that the chair of choice was free of squeaks and groans in spite of his vigorous and untoward leaps off and on to it in performing fortissimo passages of the concerto score. Needless to say, Radu was radiant at both concerts supported fully by David and his brilliant conducting.
References: My Diary; Wikipedia
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