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Curtis Phill Hsu on his way to winning the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition 2024 (photo: Peter Mould/HIPCC).

Curtis Phill Hsu crowned Hastings’ piano concerto champion

Curtis Phill Hsu from the USA proved the jury’s choice as winner of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition when it reached its climax in the White Rock Theatre last night. Report by Nick Terdre.

Curtis Phill Hsu of the USA won the 17th Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition after what the organiser described as a “scintillating” performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 in B Flat Minor on the first evening of the final round on Friday.

The 19-year-old from the USA won the Sophia Guo Award, a cash prize of £15,000 donated by Dayu and Ling Guo, and the Hastings Fellowship, an artist development and coaching package supported by Arts Council England which provides opportunities to establish a professional career in the creative industries, and will also benefit from professional engagements, including concerts in Hastings and London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Runner-up Harmony Zhu (photo: Peter Mould/HIPCC).

The runner-up’s prize of £7,000 went to Harmony Zhu, 18, from Canada. The other prize winners were, in third place, Chengyao Zhou (China), at 16 the youngest participant (£3,000); fourth, Derek Wang 25, of the USA  (£1,500); and fifth, Hyelim Kim, 27, from South Korea (£1,000).

The finalists were accompanied as usual by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the 10 semi-finalists by the Southbank Sinfonia which was making its first appearance in the competition. Both orchestras were conducted by Rory MacDonald.

“Exceptional” playing

HIPCC artistic director and jury president Prof Vanessa Latarche lauded the “exceptional” level of playing throughout the competition. “We were absolutely thrilled at the incredibly high standard of competition this year, and Curtis should be very proud to have been chosen as recipient of the First Prize,” she said. “He was a strong contender from the outset. Everything he played was polished and stylish.

“The final Tchaikovsky was exhilarating and showed him and showed him at his most exciting and powerful. However all the competitors, and especially all those who reached the final, displayed impressive skill, virtuosity and musicianship that made our job as members of the jury a difficult one.”

She praised a wonderful 10 days of music-making, attended by a fantastic audience which had battled through adverse weather to accompany the performances. “Why shouldn’t we have world-class music in Hastings?” she asked.

The long list of prizes also included the Sussex Prize of £2,500 awarded to Curtis Phill Hsu for the best semi-final performance; the Orchestra Prize (£500) awarded by members of the RPO to Harmony Zhu, and the Hastings Prize (£500) which went to Chengyao Zhou for the best performance of a specially commissioned work – Lera Auerbach’s Time Unredeemable – which all participants had to play in the second round.

Juror Pascal Escande also chose two players – Harmony Zhu and Curtis Phill Hsu – to take part in next year’s Festival d’Auvers-sur-Oise in France.

All semi-finalists will also receive a prize of £150, Prof Latarche announced.

While the jury were considering their verdict, Shunta Morimoto, the winner of the last HIPCC in 2022, treated the audience to a short recital. Winning this competition is a valuable springboard to securing a professional career for talented young pianists, and he paid tribute to the many opportunities which his achievement has opened up for him.

The competition has developed into one of the most prestigious elements of Hastings’ cultural life, and it is only to be hoped that the national media take cognisance of its significance and start to give it the coverage it richly deserves.

The finalists: from left, Derek Wang, Curtis Phill Hsu, Harmony Zhu, Chengyao Zhou and Hyelim Kim (photo: Alice Denny).

See also First among equals at the piano competition

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Posted 21:06 Sunday, Mar 3, 2024 In: Music & Sound

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