Top pianists compete in Hastings

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A performance from the 2017 Hastings Piano Concerto Competition

The 2018  Hastings Piano Concerto Competition will run from February 22 to March 3. It is a Piano Concerto Competition and not just a Piano Competition. So what is a concerto and why is it special?
A concerto is a piece of classical music written for a solo instrument accompanied by an orchestra. It requires an advanced level of technique and usually includes lines of melody interspersed with scales, chords and arpeggios and often featuring a cadenza, a solo where the pianist gets to show off their brilliant technical skill as well as their musicality.
Typically it has three sections, or movements, each with a different character and played at a different speed. Most concert pianists will learn the concerto by heart so that they can play it without sheet music and concentrate on bringing out all the contrasts of dynamics and tone which create the emotion and atmosphere of the piece. The orchestra will play from their individual parts and the conductor will have a score which shows all the orchestral parts as well as the part for the soloist. It is his job to blend all the parts together in the overall performance, and to make sure that the pianist can shine as the focus of attention.
In just over ten days time, more than 40 of the world’s finest young concert pianists will be arriving in Hastings to do battle. These are people who have probably never heard of William or Harold or 1066. But they are all still coming to conquer.
For them, the word Hastings has a very different meaning. It’s a chance to enhance their career by prevailing in an increasingly important event in the international competition calendar: the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition.
This year’s competition, which starts at the White Rock Theatre on Thursday February 22 and runs until Saturday March 3,  has attracted more entries than ever before. 160 young pianists applied – they all have to be aged between 16 and 30 – from 35 different countries, six more than have featured before. And this is at a time when entries to other piano competitions are in decline.
It’s not hard to see why Hastings has such an appeal. Last summer at the United States of America’s most prestigious piano competition, the Cliburn, which, like the Olympics, takes place just every four years, the 2017 Hastings winner, Kenny Broberg, took the Silver Medal.
He was beaten to the Gold Medal by Yekwon Sunwoo from South Korea, who came second in Hastings in 2014. Ambitious young pianists notice such things. They know that coming to Hastings means they’ll not only be up against the world’s best, they’ll also have a real chance of doing their career no end of good.
The other great appeal of Hastings is the chance to perform with one of the world’s great orchestras. The six contestants who make it to the two-evening final will play a concerto of their choice with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted this year by Jac van Steen.
Of course that’s also a huge opportunity for the local audience – the chance to see world class pianists playing with a world class orchestra. A real artistic boost for Hastings and an opportunity not to be missed.
To assess the record number of entries, Artistic Director Professor Frank Wibaut conducted live auditions in Japan, the USA and Italy as well as Manchester and London. He says the standard was exceptionally high.
“This year more than ever we’re full of really individual talent,” he says, “some very different types of pianists. We have a wide variety of real talents: pianistic expertise, showmanship, sensitivity and passion and combinations of all of them. It’s quite extraordinary.”
In the end, 42 contestants will come to Hastings to play live in front of the international jury on the stage of the White Rock Theatre. They will start arriving in just a few days time.
Stage 1 of the competition will run from Thursday to Saturday  February 22 to 24. The contestants will play up to 28 minutes of excerpts from the concerto they have chosen from the list of 15 decided by the artistic director. For this and the next round the orchestral part will be played by an accompanist.
Up to 24 contestants will then be chosen to go through to Stage 2, which will take place on Monday and Tuesday February 26 and 27. They will choose from a second list of concertos and must play a concerto by a different composer from Stage 1.
The judges will pick 12 contestants to go through to the semi-final on Wednesday February 28. They will each have to play a short classical work from a list including composers such as Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. The rest of their 35 minute programme will consist of works they have chosen themselves.
This is one of the highlights of the whole event. Because the semi-finalists are able to choose much of the music they play in the recital, there will be a huge range of music on offer.
Six contestants will then go through to the two-day final. The six semi finalists who do not go through to the final will take part in a Masterclass with distinguished members of the International Jury on Thursday 1 March.
The Final takes place over two evenings on Friday and Saturday March 2 and 3. Each finalist will play one of the concertos of their choice with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jac van Steen.
To reflect the growing stature of the competition, the prize money this year has been increased by 50%. The winner will receive a cheque for £15,000 and the chance to play in concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, in other UK recitals and to play a concerto in the USA. The total prize money available this year is over £30,000.
Unlike many other piano competitions around the world, the competitors in Hastings have to play not just one but two piano concertos as well as a recital of other music. This makes the Hastings Competition a particular challenge for these young musicians and winning will give a real boost to their international career
To have real credibility as a major international piano competition, you have to assemble an international jury of really outstanding authority. And that’s exactly what the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition has done. The seven judges, led by the artistic director, Frank Wibaut, all have national and international credentials, and their names and biographies are on the website below.
That’s quite a jury to perform in front of.
Tickets for all stages of the competition start at £5 for a session and are now on sale from the White Rock box office (01424 462288) or online from www.whiterocktheatre.org.uk. For further information please go to www.hastingsconcertocompetition.co.uk

Photo: HIPCC

Image Credits: Rye News library .

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