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Su Yeon Kim plays Rachmaninov.

Su Yeon Kim plays Rachmaninov.

Orchestral backing heats up piano finals

Three of the six finalists in the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition had their last chance to impress the jury last night. Tonight the competition  reaches its climax with the remaining three finalists going through their paces and the jury eventually anointing the winner. HOT correspondent Heidi de Winter gathers her forces for the final fling. Photos by Bob Mazzer.

It may  have been freezing outside for the first night of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition finals, but the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra were hot to trot in the White Rock Theatre. Bill Turnbull from Classic FM acted as a highly capable MC, standing alongside a pedestal flower arrangement the size of a sea mine.

Gen Li.

Gen Li tackles Prokofiev.

The RPO fielded a full complement of players, with a gleaming golden harp mirroring the soundboard of the Yamaha grand piano, now centre stage and ready for the finalists.

The audience was sadly decimated by the icy transport conditions, but gave a ‘Hastings welcome’ of applause and stamping feet to the conductor Jac van Steen.  The RPO played an opening Overture to Rosamunde (Schubert) and then welcomed Su Yeon Kim, willowy in a full-length red gown, to play the Rachmaninov Variations on a Theme of Paganini.

This well-known work – not quite a concerto but close enough to qualify for the competition – sounded so much richer with the full orchestra replacing the second piano. In previous rounds we had only heard excerpts from the Variations, but now we had them in their entirety. The gorgeous 18th variation – (the one Bill Murray learns in Groundhog Day) had the audience hooked. Ten thousand hours! That’s how long it would take Bill to learn to play like Su Yeon Kim.

Kyoungsun Park plays under the watchful eye of RPO conductor Jac Steen.

Kyoungsun Park plays under the watchful eye of RPO conductor Jac van Steen.

We were then treated to the Prokofiev Concerto No 3 played by Gen Li. He wore his usual black suit with a Mandarin stand collar. He gave a technically masterful performance of this discordant concerto. I call this ‘squeaky gate” music. The RPO oiled the gate somewhat. It was a treat to hear the castanets, percussion and string pizzicato complementing the challenging keyboard solo. The audience erupted in tumultuous cheering and applause at the conclusion, so the clap-o-meter winner was this Chinese competitor and not the two South Koreans.

After a short interval we were treated to the Beethoven’s Concerto No 5, the Emperor, played by Kyoungsun Park. I don’t think he did himself justice tonight and there were uncharacteristic errors from his usually nimble fingers. A long concerto competition like the Hastings is a bit like a tennis grand slam – you need the stamina to make it to the final and still be able to play a five-setter.

On Thursday the five losing semi-finalists enjoyed a masterclass with members of the jury. Here Heemin Park is coached by Ronan O'Hora.

On Thursday the five losing semi-finalists enjoyed a masterclass with members of the jury. Here Heemin Park is coached by Ronan O’Hora.

The judges are looking for many qualities in their final winner, but whoever they choose can hopefully take advantage of the performance opportunities that will subsequently come their way. Touring is a hard life and some of the competitors have travelled a long way to perform in Hastings. Some will stumble at the final hurdle.

A well-satisfied audience disappeared into the warm night air – all of 2°C after a daytime temperature of -6°. We return tonight to hear the remaining contestants –  Rixiang Huang, Roman Kosyakov and Fanya Lin – and discover who wins the last point of this fabulous musical tournament.

The final night of the Hastings International Piano Concerto competition takes place tonight, Saturday 3 March, at the White Rock Theatre starting at 7pm. Tickets – £26 or £16 – are available through the theatre  website, by phone from the booking office (01424 462288) or on the door, if still available.

Posted 16:04 Saturday, Mar 3, 2018 In: Music & Sound

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