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The 10 semi-finalists in the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition were accompanied by the Southbank Sinfonia, the orchestra’s first appearance in the competition. Here playing with Harmony Zhu, now one of the finalists.

Five vie for piano competition crown

Crunch time at the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition is upon us, with five remaining participants seeking to impress the jury at the finals on Friday and Saturday evenings. Nick Terdre reports, photos by Peter Mould unless otherwise stated.

Five of the several dozen talented young pianists from around the world who have come to Hastings seeking victory in the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition have successfully secured their places in the final round, which takes place on Friday and Saturday evening, 1 and 2 March, at the White Rock Theatre.

They are Curtis Phill Hsu and Derek Wang, both from the USA, Hyelim Kim (South Korea), Chengyao Zhou (China) and Harmony Zhu (Canada). Phill Hsu, Zhou and Zhu are all teenagers, Zhou the youngest at 16. Wang and Kim are in their mid twenties.

All successfully negotiated their way through the semi-finals on Wednesday and Thursday, when five of their rivals were eliminated. Altogether 34 young pianists have been displaying their talents at the White Rock Theatre since the competition began on Thursday last week. Forty applicants from 18 countries were invited to Hastings out of the 242 who took part in the preliminary video auditions, the organiser tells HOT.

There are cash prizes for all the finalists, and for the winner also the Sophia Guo First Prize, including the Hastings Fellowship, an artist development package provided by a leading agent, professional engagements and the Molly Townson Cup.

Derek Wang, whose performance in the semi-finals earned him a place in the finals.

In the last two stages the pianists perform with the accompaniment of a full orchestra – in the semi-finals the Southbank Sinfonia, on its first appearance in this event, and for the finals the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, in both cases under the baton of conductor Rory MacDonald.

Ahead of the competition each player had to choose two concertos, one from each of two lists. One of these was played at the semi-final stage, the other will be the piece for the final. Although there was a total of 29 works on offer, the choice of all 10 semi-final participants narrowed onto one of four pieces, Beethoven’s Piano Concertos nos 3 and 4 and Mozart’s Piano Concertos nos 23 and 24.

In an innovation introduced this year, for stage 2 all participants played a specially commissioned piece called Time Unredeemable by Lera Auerbach.

All performances are assessed by the seven-strong international jury under its chair, HIPCC artistic director Prof Vanessa Latarche. The other members are Eleanor Wong (Hong Kong), Paul Hughes (UK), Prof Fran Cruz Plaza (Spain), Prof Piotr Paleczny (Poland), Pascal Escande (France) and Norman Krieger (USA).

Three of the finalists will perform on Friday and two on Saturday. When the latter two have played their pieces and the jury are considering their verdict, the audience – already sold out – will be entertained with a short recital by the Japanese pianist Shunta Morimoto, the winner of the last competition in 2022.

Meanwhile Kyoshiro Hirama from Japan, who was eliminated in the earlier stages, took it on himself to visit Old Hastings House, a care home in the Old Town, where he treated the residents to an impromptu recital. “It was a great pleasure for me to perform for the residents. I was so happy since they listened to my performance intently and gave me a lot of warm comments after my concert,” he said afterwards.

Kyoshiro Hirama plays for the residents of Old Hastings House.

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Posted 16:58 Friday, Mar 1, 2024 In: Music & Sound

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