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Meng-Sheng Shen from Taiwan, one of the six finalists.

Meng-Sheng Shen from Taiwan, one of the six finalists.

Six ready for piano competition final

After the initial stages and the semi-finals, the contestants in the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition have been whittled down to six finalists. HOT’s correspondent Heidi de Winter watched the semi-finals, the first time in which the young pianists were required to perform unaccompanied. Photos by Richard Grebby of RG Studios.

So the semifinals are over and we have our final six contestants for the grand finale of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition, to be held over Friday and Saturday, 3 and 4 March, at the White Rock Theatre. On this grand occasion they will be accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The competition is being live-streamed from the auditorium – how modern are we in Hastings! – but for those of you who missed it I will try to recreate what we saw and heard during the semi-finals.

There was a single Yamaha grand piano on stage as the competitors were performing an unaccompanied recital of their own musical choices. Its golden feet gleamed in the stage lights like lion’s paws and the courageous pianists were seated right in the leonine mouth with those ivory keys ready to bite.

Six from South Korea

Youkyoung Kim, one of two finalists from South Korea.

Youkyoung Kim, one of two finalists from South Korea.

There were six South Koreans out of 12 contestants (whatever is in the water over there, they should bottle it) and their names hinted at what was to come. Yeon-Ming (Knock-it-out-of-the) Park gave us our first hairography of the competition, discarding her former reserve for some head-tossing in an impossibly difficult Danse Macabre. I think she sneaked in some extra fingers when no-one was counting.

She was followed by Youkyoung Kim who played a piece called Fists of Fury by David Rakowski. She went one further than Koki Kuroiwa yesterday – he only threatened to punch the piano, but she actually pummelled it with her closed fists. I could hear the honking car horns of New York City and the thunder of traffic evoked as she smacked the black notes with her knuckles.

This composition should get more outings. It was stupendous, even though it must have seriously shortened the life of the piano. I look forward to hearing Rakowski’s composition Schnozzage, which uses the nose (no kidding!) in competitions to come.

After the girls came 10 guys. If they ever need any money, they could all have endorsed hair products. Shining black manes were de rigeur. Jiwon Han took my prize for male hairography with a thrilling dancing fringe during a Liszt fantasia.

Piano, instrument in two modes

The piano, as well as being a stringed instrument, is a percussion one, and when it is played rhythmically by these genius soloists you can understand why. Ravel’s La Valse was played by two competitors, Dong Wan Ha (Don Juan, obviously) and (Golden) Hans Suh.

This was Ravel at his most meaty and difficult, but the only creatures I could imagine waltzing to it would be killer whales. Part of the enjoyment of a concert is giving your inner eye over to the images that the music evokes and two swirling orcas waltzing together gave me an enjoyable five-minute reverie.

Kenneth Broberg.

Kenneth Broberg.

The competition rules decree that every recital must contain a piece by a specified composer. I was reminded of those TV food programmes where the cooks are handed an awkward ingredient like a pickled onion that they have to include in the meal.

The compulsory Haydn and Mozart choices were treated similarly – tagged onto the recitals in a way that did not make great musical sense with most competitors choosing to get them over and done with at the start of their 35-minute solos. Congratulations to Kenneth Broberg who integrated his Bach toccata into an impeccably designed programme.

Insouciant performance

The final player was Koki Kuroiwa who saved the best till last. Liszt’s La Campanella is a set of variations that, as well as being terrifyingly complex, are exquisitely beautiful. Koki trilled his way through them insouciantly with his trademark cartwheeling arm as a final flourish.

The six who have made it through to the finals are Youkyong Kim and Hans Suh, both from South Korea, Meng-Sheng Shen (Taiwan), Giuseppe Guarrera (Italy), Kenneth Broberg (US) and Koki Kuroiwa (Japan). We are in for a treat this weekend.


The losing semi-finalistsYeon-Min Park, Dong-Wan Ha, Florian Mitrea, David Jae-Weon Huh, Julan Wang and Jiwon Han – spent Thursday on the stage of the White Rock Theatre enjoying a master-class from the respected members of the jury – Frank Wibaut, the competition’s artistic director and jury chairman, Aquiles Delle Vigne, Olivier Gardon, Deniz Arman Gelenbe, Bernd Goetzke, Robert Palmer and Ewa Pobłocka.

Hans Suh.

Hans Suh.

See also Twelve go through to the piano semi-finals

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Posted 19:51 Thursday, Mar 2, 2017 In: Music & Sound

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