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Yeon-Min Park, through to the semi-finals along with 11 other contesants.

Yeon-Min Park, through to the semi-finals along with 11 other contestants.

Twelve go through to the piano semi-finals

At the weekend 20 entrants progressed through to stage 2 of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition. HOT’s correspondent Heidi de Winter was in her seat to watch another two days of inspirational piano playing at the White Rock Theatre. Photos by Richard Grebby of RG Studios.

Another day, another round of this outstanding concerto competition. Come with me into the White Rock Theatre and take your £5 seat in the auditorium. The two Yamaha grand pianos, resembling outsized black pencil sharpeners, their lids rakishly angled like blades, gleam onstage. The final 20 competitors are about to treat us to fresh aural ecstasy.

Here comes Yeon-Min Park to play Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini. She caresses the concerto into the piano where it is amplified, magnified and then spiralised out in waves of polyphony and so many harmonics I feel my midbrain melting. Transcendence – and it’s only 10 in the morning!

Kenneth Broberg, through to the semi-finals.

Kenneth Broberg, semi-finalist.

In praise of the pianoforte

This is why the pianoforte surpasses all the other orchestral instruments. It fabricates chords! Think of all those orchestral tubes – flutes, oboes, clarinets and trombones. Although they are uniquely pleasurable to hear, they can never play more than one note at a time. But these Yamahas have 88-note polyphony – that’s 176 notes sounding at once with two pianos with their pedals depressed.

All that’s necessary is a competitor and an accompanist – plus the genius of a long-dead composer. (Oh – not forgetting years of dedicated study and practice). It is miraculous that two people are capable of weaving such a tapestry of sound.

One of the accompanists, Sophia Rahman, was wearing a red Shantung blouse which reflected into the lid of the pianos and gave the impression that the neighbouring keyboard was actually on fire. We are in the White Rock Theatre after all and not a concert hall. It was pure drama.

Something remarkable is happening in South Korea. Several competitors hail from this country and their technical abilities are astonishing. They are note perfect, dazzling players who must have put in their 10,000 hours of practice and then some. The performances they deliver are reminiscent of doctored studio recordings. But it’s all live!

Koki Kuroiwa turned in a dramatic performance.

Koki Kuroiwa turned in a dramatic performance.

Performance to remember

The performance of the stage for me came from the final Japanese competitor. His name is Koki Kuroiwa and he will go down in my memory as the player who did the hokey-Koki with the Paganini variations.

He is a slight, even delicate man, but don’t be deceived. He sat down at the flaming keyboard and set about these 24 variations (think music for the South Bank show with Melvyn Bragg) like a lumberjack dismembering a giant redwood. His hands became chainsaws.

He became more and more animated as his performance progressed, his face lighting up with a mischievous grin when the music pleased him. His left leg, usually reserved for the soft pedal and traditionally in repose, occasionally shot forward as though booting a football into the top corner of some net just offstage.

Then he began to throw in the occasional fist pump after he had cascaded down an octave run successfully. Finally, as the music reached its tumultuous climax, he formed his right hand into a fist, drew back his elbow and looked for all the world as though he was going to punch the living daylights out of the grand piano.

Florian Mitrea progressed to the semi-finals.

Florian Mitrea also progressed to the semi-finals.

No nodding off

You can’t teach this stuff. Nor can you drill it out of a performer who brings his whole being to the performance. I loved it! It might not be strictly ballroom but there’s no way I’m going to nod off during a performance like this. Fortunately the judges loved him too and he’s through to the next round.

If you are under the false impression that classical piano music is not your bag then once again I encourage you to visit this competition. There are moments of great tenderness and control, but also explosive fireworks and a feast for the ears. You will never see pianos played like this anywhere else this year – maybe even in your lifetime. I will always remember I was there when Koki cooked up a storm and earned his okey- dokey.

Twelve contestants have progressed to the semi-finals: Yeon-Min Park, Youkyoung Kim, Dong-Wan Ha, Meng-Sheng Shen, Giuseppe Guarrera, Hans Suh, Florian Mitrea, David Jae-Weon Huh, Julan Wang, Kenneth Broberg, Koki Kuroiwa and Jiwon Han.

In the semi-finals, which take place on Wednesday 1 March, contestants have 35 minutes to give a recital of music of their choice, including one piece from a compulsory list of composers. Six will then be chosen to go through to the final on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 March, when they will play accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The losing semi-finalists qualify for a master-class on Thursday 2 March.

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Posted 16:57 Wednesday, Mar 1, 2017 In: Music & Sound

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