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Joon Yoon

Yonjoon ‘Joon’ Yoon made Tchaikovsky’s No 1 piano concerto a new experience for our correspondent.

Opening chords are played in piano competition

“If you build it, they will come”. We are not talking about a baseball field in Iowa, but the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition at the White Rock Theatre. They’ve built it, and you should come, says HOT correspondent Heidi de Winter after her first taste of this year’s piano extravaganza. Photos by Bob Mazzer.

This marvellous must-see event is now in its 14th year. Imagine if Eric Clapton, Jimmy Hendrix, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Michael Jackson, all at the top of their games, were to play a joint gig in Hastings and the price to see them was £1 per performance. You would be mad not to come.

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Arina Lazgiian from Russia.

What is happening at the White Rock until Saturday 3 March is the pianistic equivalent. Forty two young concert pianists, the equivalent of musical gods to those of us who adore the piano, have rocked up from all over the world to play for us. On Day 1 we heard 15 piano concerto excerpts for the paltry price of £15. It’s outrageous! But this is Hastings – the theatre is not full and you should take advantage of this wonderful price to tickle those ear’oles whilst these youngsters tinkle the ivories.

From the familiar to the exotic

The day is divided into five sessions of 90 minutes each, when each contestant plays half an hour of a chosen piano concerto. The concerti range from the familiar to the exotic. You can hear Beethoven’s Emperor concerto and Grieg’s A Minor (made famous by Morecombe and Wise and a po-faced Andre Previn), which will arouse memories in you even if you have no idea of the names of these pieces of music.

Then there is the unfamiliar, fiendish Prokofiev No 3. A few years ago I did not know this piano concerto at all, but coming to HIPCC year after year I have grown to love it. The contestants certainly do. One year we heard it five times in the final!

The contestants choose it because it showcases their amazing talents so spectacularly. This is the rock star element of the competition. There are only a handful of people in the world at any one time who can play this piece . You might also enjoy the Disneyesque Tchaikovsky No 1 (think 2014 Winter Olympics closing ceremony), or the Rachmaninov No 3 (think of the film Shine).

Accompanist Nicola Eimer - a joy to watch.

Accompanist Nicola Eimer – “a joy to watch” – with contestant Quang Hong Luu.

A piano concerto is a solo pianist accompanied by an orchestra. Come the finals, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra no less, will be down in Hastings to fulfil the role. In the meantime, the orchestral part is played on a second grand piano. The accompanists are brilliant virtuoso pianists – professors and teachers of the piano here in the UK – and worth listening to in their own right. The empathic Nicola Eimer is a joy to watch and accompanied the Beethoven so deliciously you forgot she wasn’t a whole orchestra on her own.

Kyoungsun Park, a South Korean pianist (one of many from Korea – what on earth are they putting in the water over there?) played such metronomic and accurate trills that I believe a man-machine is developing before our eyes. A 17-year-old, Davide Ranaldi,played the Rachmaninov 3 from memory. It totally restores your faith in the human race.

Priscila Navarro's pianissimo had our correspondent sobbing in her seat.

Priscila Navarro’s pianissimo had our correspondent sobbing in her seat.

On Day 2 I am sitting in the White Rock Theatre at 10.20 am with tears rolling down my cheeks. Priscila Navarro, a 23-year-old Peruvian girl, has made me cry and is not going to apologise.  But all is forgiven, because it is the exquisite pianissimo she has squeezed out of the Yamaha grand piano that has caused my emotional meltdown. Was it her playing, or Beethoven’s incomparable composition, or Nicola Eimer’s brilliant accompaniment, shadowing Priscila’s every nuance, or do I need more medication?

Puppy’s enthusiasm

We were treated to the second of the 17-year-olds today. I don’t mean to be impertinent,  but Tristan Paradee’s fingers reminded me of the embryo that clamped itself to John Hurt’s face in Alien.  They were so long that, when he had to fold his little finger up to get it out of the way for a trill, it looked like a garage door had been left up.  He brought a puppy’s enthusiasm to the Grieg piano concerto and clearly hasn’t wasted his youth.  They say you need 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field.  All these pianists have put in the work.

Joon Yoon, another South Korean export, played the Tchaikovsky which we were now hearing for the sixth time.  How was it that this time I heard waves washing up a beach and a hitherto undiscovered fairground scene?  Because he brought something new and exciting. His technique was extraordinary – fingers creeping millimetres from the keys and smashing out octave runs so speedily and so accurately that the auditorium itself seemed to gasp at the finish.

Something has happened in the last decade.  Maybe it is evolution. Modern young pianists are so technically able that they make older players sound pedestrian.  It is happening in the competition.  Anyone who follows the exceptional South Korean players is likely to suffer by comparison.

Seriously folks – this is the hottest, cheapest ticket in town, and I look forward to seeing the theatre full to capacity when word gets out quite what a jewel we have under our noses here in Hastings.


Posted 14:37 Sunday, Feb 25, 2018 In: Piano Concerto Competition diary

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