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2020 Hastings Music Festival Finale with Silver Lee Stage School Tap Trio photo: Mark Harrison

Hastings Musical Festival goes virtual for lack of venue

White Rock Theatre has started to announce new events taking place there as from July 2021, but the Hastings Musical Festival has had to announce it is ‘going virtual’ for 2021 and the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition is postponed from March to late June 2021.  Chris Cormack asks what this says about the future of live music in Hastings.

It was announced in May 2020 that the Hastings Musical Festival (HMF) and the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition (HIPCC) could proceed as planned in early 2021 at the White Rock Theatre, unless unforeseen Covid developments prevented it. This was a bold decision and an indicator to others of a timescale for ‘back to normal’ – hope for Hastings’ once thriving live music scene.

Now it is announced that HMF is ‘going virtual’ in 2021 and HIPCC has been postponed to June 2021. In the event, it is the smaller music venues that are back to almost normal, while the White Rock Theatre and St Mary in the Castle remain ‘dark’. Events remain on the agenda at St Mary in the Castle, but with all the staff laid off , it begs the question how these will be possible.

The White Rock Theatre has already postponed its 2020 pantomime, Robin Hood, into the 2021 season. Assuming that the yearly pantomime is, as elsewhere, a main money-spinner, what appetite will the venue have for reopening as soon as possible in 2021? The Opus Theatre has announced it wants to reopen ‘in the not too distant future’ and clearly deserves public support, ‘thanks to the entrepreneurial zeal of Polo Piatti’, as reported.

2020 HMF Finale Silver Lee Stage School Character Dance, Phyllis Godfrey, Award Winner photo: Mark Harrison

The organisers of HMF say that they have been going since 1908 and are not going to let Covid defeat them! Because of ‘ongoing restrictions and uncertainty due to Covid’, they say they have decided to run the 2021 Hastings Musical Festival as a ‘virtual festival’, without using the White Rock Theatre as tradition should dictate. The event will take place from 7 to 20 March.

Since 1 October, entries for all four of their sections (Dancing, Singing, Instrumental and Speech and Drama) have been welcomed in at reduced fees. Entrants will need to upload videos and competitors will be able to view the other performances in their class online and still benefit from the wise words of the Festival’s internationally recognised adjudicators.

Extra classes have been added in choreography, composition and even a class for Pipe Organs which was only feasible virtually.  There are new classes for Drummers and lots of opportunities for all.

2020 HMF Finale, Charlotte Burt School of Dance Mini Group Tap photo: Mark Harrison

The organisers will be doing their utmost to ensure that the performers in the Hastings area will have a similarly rewarding Festival experience. Sadly, trophies cannot be handed out in 2021 but 2020 trophy-winners get to keep theirs for an extra year!

So please keep supporting the Festival, say the organisers, by watching their Facebook page and viewing their website for more information on how to enter and upload your videos and music scores.

If circumstances allow, a live highlights concert, possibly at the White Rock Theatre, will be arranged later in 2021 and the Festival will be back in the White Rock Theatre again in all its glory for the 2022 Festival.

The dates for the rescheduled HIPCC have been confirmed as 17-26 June 2021, with successful entrants being selected from video auditions by a panel chaired by the newly appointed President of the Jury Professor Vanessa Latarche. The announcement did not confirm that it would take place at the White Rock Theatre.

Ian Roberts, Managing Director of Hastings International Piano, confirmed that enhanced performance opportunities for the pianists, including orchestral opportunities in both the semi-final and final rounds, are still planned with further improvements due to be announced in the coming weeks. It is further good news that Steinway and Sons will be partners for the 2021 event and International Piano Magazine will be new sponsors. Hastings is grateful for these strong messages of support for its future in live music.

2020 HMF Finale Lacey Theatre Arts Ballet Group photo: Mark Harrison

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Posted 12:49 Friday, Oct 9, 2020 In: Performance


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  1. Bea Rogers

    The future of the White Rock Theatre is up in the air: their contract with HBC for a massive subsidy is coming to an end. The Council simply cannot afford this kind of money and there is a big question about priorities when basic services are under such financial pressure.
    As far as the big events go, there should be consideration of alternative venues, possibly more than one acting together. We have a wealth of these in Hastings, and there is also the biggie in Bexhill, the de la Warr. Performers deserve a serious look at these alternatives.

    Comment by Bea Rogers — Tuesday, Oct 13, 2020 @ 11:47

  2. Passing By

    Would it be an idea to record initial performances or even live from the inside and then superimpose them on outside screens a la Hollywood with entry tickets, drive-ins, bringyourownblanket and gas heaters?
    You know, like Glyndebourne picnics
    We could live-stream across the channel

    Comment by Passing By — Saturday, Oct 10, 2020 @ 14:25

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