June 19, 2020

CIM Student Michael Lu Makes Statement with Juneteenth Concert Dedicated to Racial Justice

Michael Lu
CIM piano student Michael Lu. Photo by Ken Love Photography.

Cleveland Institute of Music student and pianist Michael Lu (Pompa-Baldi) may be 20 years old, but he is wise beyond his years. He says his ultimate goal as a musician is to try to find the spiritual and metaphysical core of every single work he plays.

Lu will be doing just that as he performs a piece by Florence Price, the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer in a livestreamed concert tonight, known as the 5pm Series

He says the events of May 25, 2020 – the day George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer – caused him to reflect deeply on the issue of systemic racism, not just globally, but in his own world.

“I came to the realization that I had [learned] virtually no repertoire by Black classical composers,” Lu said. “I was familiar with George Walker and William Grant Still, but Florence Price was the first Black composer whose work I really studied and discovered for myself.” 

He will perform the Andante from Price’s Piano Sonata in E minor at the top of the program.

The second movement of the Price sonata has a main theme that Lu strongly feels is an indirect quotation from the African American spiritual Wade in the Water, which Harriet Tubman reportedly used to warn escaping slaves to get into the water to avoid being seen and make it to freedom.

“It moves you to tears to even think of it,” Lu said, “especially on such a significant day in history as June 19 – Juneteenth. Most importantly, I am dedicating this performance to the memories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless African Americans who have had their futures cut short by a system that for centuries has treated them with astounding cruelty.”

Born in Boston but raised in St. Louis, Lu has been playing piano since age 5 and is going into his third year at CIM studying with Antonio Pompa-Baldi. He says he’s had a love affair with music his entire life; the piano is a means for him to convey his ideas about what beautiful music is. He credits Pompa-Baldi with providing him the inspiration to continue to follow his dreams and potential.

“He is one of the world’s greatest living pianists,” Lu said of Pompa-Baldi. “It’s difficult to put into words how inspirational and how incredible he is as a mentor.”

In addition to Price’s sonata, Lu also will perform Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole; Franck’s Prelude, Choral, et Fugue; and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111.

The 5pm Series is a remote digital concert series designed to help connect performers with socially distant audiences. Concerts begin at 5pm in the artists’ time zone (Lu will be performing from Cleveland, Eastern time) and streamed live on Facebook and posted afterwards for anyone who missed it.

Funds raised will go toward charities whose work helps people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Viewers of concerts hosted by the 5pm Series usually donate to the Series’ GoFundMe page to help support the artist performing. In Lu’s case, he will donate all proceeds to the International Rescue Committee, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and back to the 5pm Series which aids displaced artists. He also will personally match all donations up to $200 and give those funds to the NAACP.

Lu says he is well aware that classical music itself must continue to work to move forward in creating a culture that is inclusive and thriving, but he has complete faith in the industry.

“Music, I feel, is truly the supreme manifestation of the human spirit,” he said. “The greatest music by the greatest composers – like Florence Price – represents a utopia. Classical music has the rare and universal power to touch the heart, purify one's soul and vigorously inspire us. I feel that all music needs to especially have the power to inspire each listener to make the world a better place for all.”