For pianist, it’s in the music

Skyview senior to play Beethoven concerto in upcoming Portland Youth Philharmonic concert

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If you go

What: Portland Youth Philharmonic with concerto competition winner Fred Lu playing Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto.”

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway, Portland.

Cost: $11-$40 at 503-223-5939 or through Ticketmaster, http://www.ticket...

Information: 503-223-5939.

Not many teenagers get the chance to play a Beethoven piano concerto with a symphony orchestra, but that’s precisely what Fred Lu will be doing Saturday at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland.

Lu, an 18-year-old senior at Skyview High School in Vancouver, is the featured soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Portland Youth Philharmonic, a spot he won through the orchestra’s concerto competition. This piece, known as the “Emperor Concerto” for its powerful and heroic themes, is considered one of the top piano concertos ever written.

“Last year, my piano teacher gave me the piece to study,” Lu recalled during a recent phone conversation. “I picked it up pretty quick, because I’ve heard it on recordings many times. I really like the piece and felt right away that I could do something with it.”

For the past couple of years, Lu has been studying with Jean-David Coen, who teaches in Portland and serves on the music faculty of Willamette University in Salem, Ore.

“Fred is a marvelous young pianist,” said Coen. “He plays with technical authority and command and great sensitivity. He has impressed everyone with his talent in music and in other areas as well.”

Accolades abound

Lu started playing piano when he was 4 years old. That’s when his mother, Lihua Sun, and his father, Di Lu — a physician at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center — bought an electric keyboard for him to try. Sun taught him a few basics and then signed him up with a piano teacher. His talent has been reinforced by the many competitions he has won.

Lu was the gold-medal winner in the Vancouver Symphony’s 2010 Young Artists Competition and played a movement from Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto with the orchestra in April. Lu’s triumphs also include winning the 2009 and 2011 MetroArts Young Artists competition, first place in the Oregon Music Teachers Association 2009 Senior Division, and taking second place in the 2008 Seattle International Piano Competition. In July, he participated in the Colburn Academy Piano Festival in Los Angeles.

After taking second place at the American Fine Arts Festival Piano Concerto Competition, he was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in January in New York.

When practicing at home, Lu has a score that allows him to switch from his solos to a piano version of what the orchestra plays. That way, he can get a sense of how the entire movement will sound, and he doesn’t have to try to rehearse with a recording.

“The concerto as a whole has an epic sense to it,” Lu said. “The first movement is really heroic. My favorite movement is the second one. It is a huge contrast to the first movement, because it is so peaceful and serene and introspective. It has sublime moments. The third movement is again very different. I like all three movements. They have contrasting moods, but taken as a whole they are majestic.”

Lu usually practices one to two hours every day on the Steinway grand that he has at home. He said he loves to listen to the recordings of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Arthur

Rubinstein. For the “Emperor Concerto,” he likes the recording that Leon Fleisher did with the Cleveland Orchestra.

“It’s very powerful and just grabbed me,” he said.

In addition to the Beethoven, Lu is currently working on Maurice Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit” and works by Johann Sebastian Bach. This past summer, while attending the Colburn Academy Piano Festival, Lu gave a couple of recitals that are on YouTube: Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 (http://bit.ly/tM5sCt) and Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 (http://bit.ly/uGLZos).

In addition to his piano studies, Lu has maintained a 4.0 grade point average at Skyview, where he is a member of the Math Team and the Knowledge Bowl team and runs cross country. He will be sending out college applications soon and said he would like to pursue a double major, combining a piano performance with a science major such as chemistry or biology.

The upcoming concert has an added family dynamic, because his younger brother, Richard Lu, will be playing in the cello section of the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

On this program, the orchestra will also play Malcolm Arnold’s “Four Scottish Dances”; George Butterworth’s “The Banks of Green Willow”; and Edgar Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” The pieces will be conducted by David Hattner, the orchestra’s music director,.

When asked if he will be nervous, Fred Lu said no.

“I’ve played for large audiences before,” he said. “Before I come out on the stage, I’ll do a few stretches to relax.”