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Maxim Kinasov from Russia is among the six finalists in the piano competition.

Maxim Kinasov from Russia is among the six finalists in the piano competition.

Audience appeal vs technical virtuosity? A point of view

As finalists in the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition enjoy a brief respite before summoning their forces for a final effort, Brian Hick, editor of Larks Review and a diligent observer of all stages of the competition, offers some thoughts from his seat in the stalls.

Midway through the semi-finals on Wednesday I wondered if it is possible to have just too much Liszt? Though the schedule for the competition seems quite wide at all levels, it does boil down to the choices which individual candidates make and consequently the strong possibility of an overload for one composer over another.

The original 176 live contestants had been reduced to 42 for the Stage 1 process last week with its initial concerto choices, and to 24 by the time we got to Stage 2. As a result, over Monday and Tuesday this week we heard Liszt’s 1st concerto 10 times and Beethoven’s 3rd seven times. Meanwhile Mozart only gained one lonely presentation and Franck a single – though very welcome – outing.

At which point the focus was taken off the concerto to consider the solo recital skills of the remaining 13 competitors. I obviously need to be careful at this point not to declare any bias as we now know the line-up for the finalists which will, I am sure, cause considerable discussion as usual across the large numbers of followers who have been so committed to supporting the early rounds.

Who to impress?

But the solo recital is quite a different animal from the concerto, and communication with the audience, as well as a programme which is balanced and entertaining, is essential. However, in a competition, the performer needs to impress the jury rather than the audience which may explain some of the choices made for the recital programmes.

Put bluntly, some of the works chosen were technically impressive but long-winded and, within the nearly eight hours of back-to-back performances, at times outstayed their welcome. Without mentioning any names, I am aware that my favourite recitalist by far, the one who for me gave a beautifully balanced programme which communicated and delighted the audience, did not make it into the final six. But I’d willingly hear him/her again when other competitors left me cold.

The semi-finals were live-streamed via a big screen in the town centre.

The semi-finals were live-streamed to the local populace via a big screen in the town centre.

This is not in any way to undervalue the enormous amount of work and dedication which goes into any career in music, and I am all too aware of the 170 young musicians who did not make it to the finals, many of whom will undoubtedly have secure futures as professional musicians even if their names are never up in lights.

As there were 13 semi-finalists rather than the usual 12, I had to leave while the final soloist was playing and was delighted to find I could go on listening to her, as I crossed the centre of town, from the giant screen which had been placed there. It looked magnificent but most people passing seemed confused as there was nothing at that stage to say what it was or why it was on!

And unfortunately it won’t be there for the finals.


Lark Reviews

Posted 10:47 Friday, Mar 1, 2019 In: Music & Sound

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