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Radu Lupu, celebrated Romanian pianist, dies at age 76

An undated portrait of the late Romanian pianist Radu Lupu. Lupu died Sunday at age 76 in Lausanne, France.
Erich Auerbach
Getty Images
An undated portrait of the late Romanian pianist Radu Lupu. Lupu died Sunday at age 76 in Lausanne, France.

The widely admired Romanian pianist Radu Lupu has died at age 76. His manager, Jenny Vogel, told NPR that he died "peacefully at his home in Switzerland from multiple prolonged illnesses" on Sunday evening. Lupu was frequently cited by fellow musicians as an inspiration and model of artistic expression, particularly for his interpretations of Schubert, Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven and Bartok, among other composers.

His death was announced by the George Enescu International Festival and Competition in Bucharest; no other details of his death have been released. Lupu had retired from public performances in 2019, after several years of canceling many engagements due to poor health, and had not recorded since the mid-1990s.

Throughout his career, Lupu recoiled from interviews and press appearances; he also did not allow radio broadcasts of his performances. But his music making became the stuff of deep dedication among fans and fellow musicians.

Born in Galati, Romania, on Nov. 30, 1945, he began piano lessons at age 6; by the time he was 12, he gave his first public concert featuring entirely his own compositions. He went on to study at the Moscow Conservatory in 1961.

His international career began with a blazing trio of wins at three highly prestigious piano competitions: the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Texas in 1966, the George Enescu International Piano Competition in Bucharest in 1967, and the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition in England in 1969.

By the following year, he had begun recording for Decca, his record label home for the next two-plus decades. (He made a handful of other recordings for other labels in partnership with other musicians, including collaborations with pianists Daniel Barenboim and Murray Perahia, soprano Barbara Hendricks, and violinists Szymon Goldberg and Kyung-Wha Chung.)

In a review of a collection of Lupu's complete solo recordings for Decca, Gramophone critic Rob Cowan wrote in 2010: "If I were asked to sum up the art of the pianist Radu Lupu in a single phrase, it would be "the Carlos Kleiber of the piano," meaning perfectionism in detail combined with a musical imagination that delivers, and an invariable grasp of where the music is going ... Lupu gives the impression of someone who had been thinking of the music long before playing it, so that every quaver has its place, every nuance its designated effect. And yet the end results rarely sound calculated, such is the depth and persuasiveness of Lupu's musicianship."

When news of Lupu's death came Monday, tributes from fellow musicians poured out on social media, including from pianists Igor Levit, Kirill Gerstein, Vikingur Olafsson, Lars Vogt, Gabriela Montero and Stewart Goodyear, as well as composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Cellist Steven Isserlis wrote on Twitter: "Devastated to hear that Radu Lupu has left us. Not only one of the greatest, warmest, most profound musicians I've ever heard, but also a deeply kind, compassionate, modest and humorous man - and a wonderful friend. He was ready to go, true; but he'll still be desperately missed."

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.