Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Curtis Phill Hsu at Fairlight Hall

Enchantment at Fairlight Hall: Curtis Phill Hsu’s Gala Piano Performance

One of the most important events taking place here at Fairlight Hall is the International Piano Concerto Competition. That finished in March: this is the final activity of 2024, a concert given by the winner, this year Curtis Phill Hsu. Victoria Kingham reviews Hsu’s performance.

When not at the piano he presents as a young, rather self-effacing boy in his late teens but at his instrument he is transformed into someone who is quite sure of his place in the world.

And what a place. He gave what could only be classed as a breathtaking performance. He had flown in rather late from Hanover, where he is now based, to a day of changeable weather, rather cold. It did not affect his concentration or his performance. He is one of those musicians who look as though they were born next to their instruments. In fact he began his musical training in Taiwan, at the age of 4.

The chosen pieces were perhaps intentionally arranged in order of technical difficulty. He began with the Mozart C Major sonata, conventional, formal, well-known, yes, perhaps readily accessible. There are some recordings of this where the pianist goes hell-for-leather. Hsu’s approach however is measured, thoughtful; the andante, in his hands, is especially lyrical, and played with such clarity that I find myself noticing the infinitesimal pauses between notes and phrases which, cumulatively, help direct our appreciation of a piece.

Then came three Debussy Preludes – not quite the most well-known ones, which was refreshing. The dynamics and the tonal variety with which Hsu imbued these was wondrous, bringing out the lovely, lingering indeterminacy of Debussy’s music. These preludes are open to endless interpretation; Debussy intentionally wrote their titles at the end and not the beginning of the score, to avoid their influencing the performer. Hsu’s approach is careful, cerebral, perfect.

The second half consisted of two pieces which are in fact connected: Schumann dedicated his C Major Sonata to Liszt, and in return Liszt dedicated his B minor Sonata to Schumann. Hsu played both these works; the Liszt was his final piece, a clear tour-de-force. Ferociously difficult, when first performed it was denounced by Clara Schumann as ‘noise’. But it is now well-known as one of those pieces that re-set the boundaries of one’s understanding of the genre. It ends as it begins, with some hesitant exploratory bass notes that sound almost random, but its development and movement in between, like all true works of great Art, shape a whole universe.

Musical compositions like this, and the ability to perform them, seems to me one of the primary achievements of humanity, and it is a great privilege to see gifted performers like Hsu at the beginning of what will be a stellar career. The Piano Concerto Competition is now an international event, one that is firmly grounded here in Hastings.

You can read more about Hastings International Piano Concerto on its website.

If you’re enjoying HOT and would like us to continue providing fair and balanced reporting on local matters please consider making a donation. Click here to open our PayPal donation link. Thank you for your continued support!

Posted 22:32 Tuesday, Jul 9, 2024 In: Music & Sound

Also in: Music & Sound

More HOT Stuff

    HOT is run by volunteers but has overheads for hosting and web development. Support HOT!


    Advertise your business or your event on HOT for as little as £20 per month
    Find out more…


    If you like HOT and want to keep it sustainable, please Donate via PayPal, it’s easy!


    Do you want to write, proofread, edit listings or help sell advertising? then contact us


    Get our regular digest emails

  • Subscribe to HOT