Happy 70th birthday, Radu Lupu!

Gramophone Mon 30th November 2015

Cellist Steven Isserlis invited musical colleagues from around the world to pay tribute to the great pianist on his 70th birthday

Radu Lupu (photo by Ivan Maly)

Radu Lupu (photo by Ivan Maly)

To celebrate Radu Lupu’s 70th birthday, cellist Steven Isserlis invited fellow friends and colleagues from across the classical music world to reflect on what makes the pianist such a special artist.

So, from Daniel Barenboim to Emanuel Ax, András Schiff to Felicity Lott – plus many, many others - happy birthday, Radu Lupu!

Daniel Barenboim (pianist, conductor)

I have known, admired and loved Radu Lupu since 1969 or 1970. He is one of the most extraordinary musicians, because he combines thorough knowledge and preparation with an ability to improvise as if he was discovering what he is doing at the spur of the moment. This is indeed a very rare combination! I wish him the best of health and many long years making music.

Steven Isserlis (cellist)

Radu Lupu is one of the greatest artists I have ever heard or known. His music comes from deep within, his performances the result of profound thinking and fervent emotion. As a man, he is much beloved: kind, witty, generous and without any hint of arrogance whatsoever – to put it mildly.

In fact, at times he drives me – and most of his friends – a bit mad. Never satisfied with himself (and sometimes ridiculously admiring of others), he will refuse most requests to play concerts; will not enter the recording studio, or allow any of his concerts to be recorded or broadcast; delights in telling anybody who will listen how badly he’s been playing; and so on.

Two of the greatest musical experiences of my life were hearing him play the Schubert B-flat Sonata and, some time later, Schumann’s Kinderszenen, both at the Wigmore Hall. Even Radu himself admitted that they were special performances. And the result? He has refused to play at the Wigmore ever again, because he now feels too much pressure!

A friend once told me that Radu has left money in his will for lawyers to block any live recording of his being issued after his death. I was stupid enough to mention this to Radu once, and ask whether it were true. ‘No, it’s not,’ he replied thoughtfully. ‘But it’s a good idea!’ I wished I’d kept my mouth shut. Another incident made me question just how much DNA Radu and I share. He kindly took my late wife Pauline and me out to dinner at an expensive French restaurant in London. At the end of the enjoyable and high-spirited evening, the bill arrived. Radu frowned as he read it. ‘Oh dear,’ I said. ‘Is it very expensive?’ ‘No,’ he growled. ‘It’s too cheap!’ I persuaded him to live with it, and we left. The next day, I was out for several hours, and on my return noticed that there were quite a few missed calls from a certain number that looked familiar. I hadn’t been home for long when the phone rang again. I picked up. ‘I was right,’ announced Radu’s bass voice, with triumphant gloom. ‘They forgot to charge me for the wine.’ He told me that he was leaving London that night, so would send me a £50 note, and I would have to take it to the restaurant, telling them what had happened and apologising to them for their error. As it turned out, I couldn’t get there for a couple of months; when I finally did, and gave them the money, they merely looked at me as if I were mad. It was hard to explain…

Thank you, Radu, for your wonderful artistry and for being so unmistakeably, unchangeably and uniquely the complex and loveable being that you are. And please, please keep playing as often as you can bear to – we need you! You and your music make the world a better place.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

As a piano student, listening to recordings and recitals of Radu Lupu has shaped my conception of sound from a very young age. He represents the absolute beauty of sound, not only in aesthetic terms but most importantly because his sound speaks, sings, whispers, laughs and cries, touching our hearts directly. When I finally had the immense privilege of making music with him (Bartók's Third with the Philadelphia Orchestra), I was inspired forever by his artistry, his poetry, and his disarming simplicity. I wish him many more years of absolutely wonderful music making, and I can't wait to see him again soon for more unforgettable moments.

Dame Felicity Lott (soprano)

Unforgettable, singing with Radu at Steven Isserlis’s 50th birthday Wigmore concert. I’ve never heard Fauré played with such a caressing touch. And listening to and watching András Schiff and Radu rehearsing Schubert’s F minor Fantasie: absolutely glorious and heart-breaking. A two-box Kleenex experience. I’d be a groupie if I could. Happy birthday, wonderful man.

Sir András Schiff (pianist)

Who are your favorite pianists? Oh God, how often do we have to answer this silly question. My list contains the names of composers like Bartók,Rachmaninov and Schnabel (yes, he too was a composer), as well as pianists like Cortot and the two Fischers (Edwin AND Annie)‎. Alas, none of them are alive. Among today's keyboardists there are so very few who are worthy of joining my list; happily for us all, though, Radu Lupu continues the great traditions of the past. I know that many other names will come to the minds of those reading this; well, this is my own modest opinion and you're welcome to make your own choices.

Radu doesn't give interviews, he doesn't appear on talk shows, he is not at all interested in the media circus. In today's musical climate his presence is like a breath of fresh air. His tone is like his personal signature. In the distant past, a pianist with an unattractive touch would have been an exception to the rule, today it's the other way around. Many people can play very fast, very loud and without any wrong notes. These are not the attributes of great technique, they merely show off the mechanical excellence of the player.

Sound production and tonal finesse are among the trademarks of a much higher category, that of creative fantasy and artistic imagination. Radu has the rare gift to illuminate anything that he plays with rare musical intelligence. He thinks like a composer, he understands the structure, the form, the harmonic language of the composition. He doesn't get lost in small details but sees the necessity and the hierarchy of those elements that are most important. He is never fussy, his interpretations are models of simplicity and of very good taste. Best known and admired as an interpreter of Mozart,Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms (not a bad list of composers), he can occasionally surprise us with unexpected choices like Janáček, Enescu or Bartók. His performance of the Debussy Préludes is second to none.

‎Radu Lupu is never happy with himself, he is self-critical to a fault. It's probably this quality that has helped him to keep developing, growing to new heights.

Let's rejoice that he is with us and let's hope that he will continue to let us witness his great art for many years to come.

Radu Lupu (photo by Decca/Mary Roberts)

Radu Lupu (photo by Decca/Mary Roberts)

Stephen Hough (pianist)

Blind tastings are always the most honest, and Radu is a pianist I have heard a number of times on the radio without knowing who was playing but just knowing, as I listened in raptures, that it was some of the most beautiful, tender, compelling, insightful musicianship I'd ever heard.

Kirill Gerstein (pianist)

Radu Lupu is far more than a great pianist. Listening to him, the attention slips away from the beauty and mastery of his piano-playing - impressive though that is, with its rich palette of sound and resonance, control over chordal voicing fueled by an exceptionally refined harmonic sense and a muscular apparatus in complete alignment with the musical gesture and timing; one is taken beyond these impressions to a more profound place, deep below and far above the surface. Lupu projects a state of deepest contemplation, attention and alertness to the inner life of a musical composition. The overall shape, metric rhymes, the interaction between harmony and melody become audible through this intense attentiveness, rather than forcefulness. Lupu's playing, especially when experienced live, is rather immune to my professional habit of analysing: ‘how is this done?' Trying to understand his phrasing, timing or the effects his bear-like posture at the keyboard has on the sound is educative, but yields only partial results. The whole is even greater than the sum of its ingredients. I find it uplifting to know that away from media noise, promotion and on-demand availability and repeatability, there exist such islands of music and humanity as embodied by Radu Lupu.

Emanuel Ax (pianist)

I persuaded my wife to go with me on our first date with the promise of tickets to a Radu Lupu concert at Hunter College in New York, at which he played the Schubert B-flat Sonata. 40-some years later, I still remember the magic of that performance. We have heard Radu so many times since then, and have been privileged to get to know him and Delia – and we remain the same wide-eyed fans that we became that evening. We wish him, in the old saying, 120 years of great piano playing to come, and for myself, enough time to keep hearing him make musical magic.

With deep affection and admiration.

Nelson Goerner (pianist)

Radu Lupu is undoubtedly one of the most inspirational figures in my life. Each time I have the chance to hear him play, I feel uplifted to spiritual spheres of which he is one of the few to have the secret. I am always deeply moved by his total honesty, the nobility of his artistic ideals, deepest sincerity and profound meaning of his interpretations. And his sound is just glorious – it has a sheer magic that is unmistakably and only his.

I have the privilege to be a close friend of this wonderful human being; his warmth, his generosity and unfaltering loyalty towards his friends are all a most precious gift to me.

Happy birthday, dearest Radu. I look forward to hearing many more of your concerts in the future.

David Zinman (conductor)

It is hard to believe that you have reached the grand age of 70! I can still remember when I first heard you play Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto in Amsterdam in the late 1960s and the spine-tingling magic you created a the end of the slow movement. Since then we have made music together all over the world. I wish you all the best for this ‘big’ birthday. Keep doing what you do. The world needs it!

Robert Levin (pianist, conductor)

Herewith warmest wishes on your birthday from a colleague who has found endless inspiration and spiritual fulfillment from your artistry.

Paavo Järvi (conductor)

I have learned more from Radu than from any other musician.

Happy birthday, dear Radu!

Jenny Vogel (Radu Lupu's manager)

So many concerts that nearly didn’t happen. So many that did. So many late night walks (often in snow, lose a glove?) and late night talks. So many movies and even a bathroom rescue operation. How can it be 37 years?

Your artistry is profound but even greater is the privilege to know you and to laugh with you.

With love and the greatest respect.

Lawrence Foster (conductor)

I almost always lost at backgammon but I have not given up. Happy birthday!

Matias Tarnopolsky (arts administrator)

Wishing the happiest possible - and inevitable - birthday! With the very fondest of memories from many corners of the globe, but today direct from California!

Richard Tognetti (violinist, conductor)

Vulnerable thunder is how I'd describe Radu Lupu's playing.

I only heard him live once and it was spellbinding. I really felt embarrassed being there, so private and tumultuous were his invocations of Schubert. A dream of mine would be to have heard him on a phonograph cylinder recording. As per any great artist it's the power of unleashing that space between the notes that creates emotional resonance...

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