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Kenneth Broberg plays Gershwin accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Kenneth Broberg accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Broberg takes piano competition prize

After the two-day final on Friday and Saturday, the winner of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition was finally chosen from the six finalists. HOT correspondent Heidi de Winter was there to see him crowned and offers her thoughts on a memorable, if gruelling, 10 days. Photos by Richard Grebby of RG Studios.

The competition is over and the worthy winner was Kenneth Broberg, an American who played music composed by his countryman Gershwin. It paid off. They say you should write what you know about. You should also play the music that’s in your soul. South Korea needs to uncover a classical piano composer pronto to match its outstanding pianists.

The winner accepts the competition trophy from Michael Foster, High Sheriff of East Sussex.

The winner accepts the competition trophy from Michael Foster, High Sheriff of East Sussex.

The finals were played over two evenings, sensitively accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) under their John-Cleese lookalike conductor, Tim Henty.

Because Broberg performed on the first evening, anyone who came only for the second day of the final on Saturday was denied the opportunity to hear the winner. The organisers missed a trick when they pushed the Yamaha offstage and dropped the final curtain without offering Broberg a chance to play an encore after he had received first prize and a cheque for £10,000. He was the star of the show, after all.

A prize for Koki

The orchestra’s prize (£500 donated by the artistic director), for the competitor they most enjoyed accompanying, went to Koki Kuroiwa who played Rachmaninov, which clearly is in his soul. He gave an uninhibited performance, left leg swinging away, his giant hands dancing like marionettes’, and deliberately broke the fourth wall between himself and the audience after a showbiz double-handed trill when he turned to us quite deliberately, as though to say, “You ain’t seen nothing yet”.

This raises some moot questions which the audience were discussing. I will ask them rhetorically here. Are piano competitions inherently iniquitous? How can you compare Beethoven’s music with Gershwin’s? Why were there no British pianists in this British competition? Was that a smart move by the organisers?

Was it ‘green’ to import pianists from all over the world, like Kenyan green beans, for our enjoyment? Was it necessary to audition 150 of them? Do we want note-perfect robots or musical showmen? Does an audience want what a judge wants?

Does the classical piano world want the riff-raff, uneducated proletariat coming to their concerts, munching on crisps and clapping in the wrong places? The Royal Opera doesn’t, although they pretend they do! Ah, it’s fun to speculate.

Bums put on seats

I know that the competitors want to play – and to be heard. Putting bums on seats is part of the organising committee’s duty, and they did so marvellously. The advertising, live-streaming, public piano playing, free tickets to schoolchildren – all these were admirable and effective outreach.

The competition is heavily subsidised by the Kowitz family – Lord knows what it costs to get the RPO to play your backing track – and they deserve a little return on their investment, even if only to halve it next year if it’s closer to paying its own way.

The winner played Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F.

The winner played Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F.

The competition director, Frank Wibaut, hinted that the competition may have to run on alternate years, which put a bit of a downer on the night. To be fair, he was knackered after two weeks’ adjudication and a dose of Norovirus, but he needs to pace himself and delegate more if it’s getting too much. If you are not training your successor, then you are not doing a good job. By all means brag that you have massively increased the competition’s international standing, but is it sustainable?

The audience would settle for an annual competition with a one-night final and only 30 entrants if that meant the people of Hastings could continue to enjoy it. Once you start attracting international fame, the locals tend to get squeezed out. Again, these are points for lively debate, not criticism.

Knowing their onions

Sitting in the auditorium, I was privileged to observe the expertise of the audience. People really knew their onions. The chap next to me, a local man with a great love of classical piano music and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the repertoire, confidently predicted the winner. The judges are able to do this too, and quite early in the proceedings. They must keep themselves honest and their egos under control.

Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition. It is an unbelievable privilege to have this on our doorstep and everyone involved deserves a medal and a month off to recover. Prof Wibaut deserves two!

The next gig is on Thursday 1 June when, as part of his prize, Kenneth Broberg will give a concert with the RPO at the De La Warr Pavilion.

Then on Saturday 1 July at Fairlight Hall in Fairlight the fund-raising begins for next year with a gala night of music and dancing. Tickets are a snip at £70. Live auction, live performances, including by the prizewinner, not all classical.

The following day, Sunday 2 July, is the prizewinner’s summer recital, also at Fairlight Hall.

The six finalists - from left, Meng-Sheng Shen, Giuseppe Guarrera, Kenneth Broberg, Hans Suh, Youkyoung Kim and Koki Kuroiwa.

The six finalists – from left, Meng-Sheng Shen, Giuseppe Guarrera, Kenneth Broberg, Hans Suh, Youkyoung Kim and Koki Kuroiwa.

Second prize  went to Hans Suh,  third to Youkyoung Kim, fourth jointly to Koki Kuroiwa and Meng-Sheng Shen, and fifth to Giuseppe Guarrera.

Posted 22:23 Sunday, Mar 5, 2017 In: Music & Sound

1 Comment


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  1. susan

    how daft of the organizers not to have the winner perform at the end of the finals when s/he receives the award… I can’t believe such bad planning.

    Comment by susan — Wednesday, Mar 8, 2017 @ 20:23

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