British audiences love competitions – you only have to think of Strictly, Bake Off and the myriad quiz programmes on day-time television to prove that – and so it was understandable that the White Rock Theatre was sold out on Saturday evening for the final event in this year’s Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition.
The difference of course was that most will have bought their tickets long before they had any idea who was to play or what the programme would be.
In the event the programme proved to be a very popular one – Chopin, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. It would only have needed the addition of the Grieg concert to have presented two evenings of what are effectively the favourite piano concerti of all time!
But this is telling the story from the end. For all involved the competition in Hastings had started ten days before, and even this ignores the heats scattered across the world which drew 176 young pianists, reduced to forty six who arrived for the concerti performances in Stage 1.
By Monday, for Stage 2, this number had been reduced to 24 and subsequently to 13 for the semi-final.
Stalwart interested members of the public had attended many if not all of these stages, and I was present from the start of Stage 2. Realistically is it stressful for all concerned.
The Jury have to give their whole attention to each competitor, and that means twelve concerti back to back for two days before the thirteen back to back recitals for the semi-final.
Here we had an opportunity to get a wider understanding of the skills and interests of the competitors, though this was also the point where discretion was needed.
As competitors started to impress as individuals, so one became more interested in their progress. Suffice to say that one of the pianists who impressed me most in the semi-finals did not make it into the final rounds.
The exceptional quality of the candidates this year was pointed out during the master-classes held on the Thursday. If these were the competitors who had failed to get into the final, just how difficult was it going to be for the judges to differentiate the knife-edge difference between the final six?
But differentiate they did and we understand this was achieved by a simple numeric system, each judge giving a number out of 25 to each candidate, and the totally being aggregated. Discussion would only be needed if there was a dead heat or totals were very close.
After a wait, and speeches of thanks to all concerned – with particular thanks to the RPO under Rory Macdonald - the results were announced. First came two prizes which lie outside the top running order. The special prize went to Yuanfan Yang from the United Kingdom, who had played Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto in the final, and the Orchestra Prize to Maxim Kinasov of Russia who had brought the competition to a close with Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.
As is customary only the top three were then named, with the third prize going to Eric Guo of Canada, the second prize to Maxim Kinasov of Russia and first prize to Fyumiya Koido who had given a fine account of the Ravel concerto on Friday evening.
From now on the competition will be biennial with the next one in 2021, with a Festival of Piano in the intervening years. We can be grateful that this competition puts Hastings firmly on the international music map as it draws ever finer performers to its shore.
Review by Brian Hick