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2012 winner Eugenio Catone of Italy plays Schubert's Sonata D664 at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, November 2012. In the background is a painting by Gillian Ayres. Photo © Alexander Brattell.


At the end of the week PhotoHastings presents an exhibition of photographs taken by John Cole and Alexander Brattell to celebrate the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition 2013-2014. Chris Cormack uses the occasion to consider the impact of this competition.

Ethan Richardson and Matthew Gouwos play a duet on the baby grand piano in Priory Meadow, part of HIPCC 2014's Piano Week community programme. Photo © John Cole

The photographs of John Cole and Alexander Brattell bring out brilliantly the excitement of the competition and the range of extra activities that it can offer to ordinary people in Hastings, including the provision of a concert grand piano in the Priory Meadow Shopping Centre for many people to have a go.

With contestants drawn from over 30 countries, the 2015 competition is now under way with video recordings from applicants being reviewed and a list of 16 concerti to choose from. New for 2015 is a Beethoven or Mozart concerto in Stage 2 and semi-final recitals in Stage 3. The Final, Stage 4, will feature again the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

The competition is barely more than 10 years old and yet it already rivals the much older Leeds Piano Competition as the UK’s premier competition of its kind. Hastings’ competition is held annually, whereas the ‘Leeds’ is only held every three years. How can this success have developed so quickly? Well of course, the generosity of the original sponsors, piano concern Blüthner’s, and subsequent sponsors, especially the Fairlight Arts Trust (Kowitz Family Foundation) and Yamaha, have been key. However the success has been dependent on the already existing infrastructure of the much older Hastings Music Festival, now in its 103rd year.

The baby grand piano at Hastings' Priory Meadow Shopping Centre, part of HIPCC 2013's Piano Week community programme. Photo © Alexander Brattell.

Over a period of more than a century, the participants in the Hastings Music Festival must number in the tens of thousands and include under-threes and over-90s – this must surely be unique in the UK in its scope? And it has largely been funded by participants and ‘members’ (see below), plus a handful of local charities (especially recently the Hastings Round Table and the Hastings Beer and Music Festival), together with individual bequests.

With supporters like the Beer and Music Festival, this is a sign of how Hastings people sustain themselves and become ‘musical sophisticates,’ as was acknowledged this year! Could Hastings have become so musically sophisticated without the Hastings Music Festival?  Remember this is where tens of thousands of Hastingers have laboured in back rooms to perfect their musical performances. The deadline for 2015 Hastings Music Festival entrants is 17 November 2014, (see below), so you Hastings musical sophisticates must get your skates on!

Conductor Brian Wright offers advice to Taek Gi Lee (South Korea) before the finals begin. Photo © John Cole

The festival organisers actually generate cash that is ploughed back into the community in support of musical education and activities. Every year the Hastings Musical Festival distributes substantial sums to aspiring performers. The amount available for distribution is determined by the income from the festival and various trust funds set up for and administered by it. Everybody who supports the festival contributes towards this income. Last year £4,250 was distributed to 15 applicants.

At a time when the East Sussex Music Service is having its funding cut progressively up to 2014-15 by 50% from a previous annual budget of £1.027m,  it is lucky that there are supporters and volunteers to keep things going in Hastings. The borough council is becoming progressively more vocal about its commitment to promote the creative arts as a means towards regenerating the town, but with the millions that are supposed to be brought in to the town from central government for regeneration, we don’t hear about any of this money being used to promote the arts – still less music.

Reina Ando, from Japan, practising in auditorium of St. Mary in the Castle. Photo © John Cole

Regeneration is becoming more sophisticated and effective in that money should be and is increasingly applied in a way that builds on existing strengths; the Tec66 initiative to support training and development in our local hi-tec industries is a good example of this. When it comes to the arts, Hastings is strong but also in competition with Margate and Folkestone for regeneration funds. Given Hastings’ musical sophistication, surely this is a strength we should be building on? The council is keen to trumpet about Fat Tuesday, Jack in the Green and Bonfire Celebrations events, but how much does it say about the music festival? The Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition gives an even more powerful reason for tourists to visit the town for its musical sophistication.

Photography is another cultural strength of Hastings as evidenced by the plethora of quality events surrounding PhotoHastings this year.  The town is also grateful for people such as Alexander Brattell who stimulate interest and broadcast information on photography all year round with events such as Photology.

Photology – Talks and discussions about photography – first Monday of month  8-10pm Bullet Coffee House, 38 Robertson St. Hastings TN34 1HT, entry £3. Next meeting 3 November with Malcolm Glover photographer.

Hastings Music Festival  2015 entry form. Deadline 17 November 2014.

Become a member of Hastings Music Festival.

Virtuoso – an exhibition of photographs by John Cole & Alexander Brattell from The Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition 2013-2014, 31 October-14 November at St Mary in the Castle, Pelham Place, Hastings TN34 3AF.  Preview 6.30-9pm, Friday 31 October. All welcome.

2014 HIPCC winner Taek Gi Lee (South Korea) playing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in the finals. Photo © John Cole.

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Posted 16:28 Sunday, Oct 26, 2014 In: Photography

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