Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition finals – Prokofiev surfeit!

For the past two evenings Battleaxe and Philosopher have been down at the White Rock Theatre, for the finals of the annual Hastings number one high culture-fest, the Piano Concerto Competition.

   This year was different in that they had the final spread over two nights, with six finalists playing a concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, three each night. In the past, the Saturday Finals Night has been a real buzz – one of Hastings’ top ‘see and be seen’ events – anyone who is anyone in the town attended.

From the website….

    Somewhat alarmingly, five out of the six finalists chose to play a Prokofiev piano concerto – we sat through three performance of No 3, and two of number 2. 
    Clearly, pianists choose these from the list (of 17) offered to them because they demonstrate extreme pianistic dexterity. To the lay eye and ear, the works seem to consist of long passages where the player hurtles frenziedly up and down the keys, mostly with their arms crossed, playing a great many notes very quickly.
    To people not very familiar with the concertos (and I suspect that was most of us in the audience), you couldn’t actually tell if they played all the notes required, any wrong notes, or even all the right notes in the wrong order. (Is that Morecombe and Wise or Les Dawson?)
    However, all the players were incredibly talented and you could just about differentiate between the performances – some bashed away a bit mechanically, or let the orchestra dominate, while others managed to establish some sort of artistic mastery of the situation.
    The sixth finalist chose Tchaikovsky No 1, and we all settled down happily to bask in romantic familiarity. But then, oh horror, the poor bloke had a wobbly in the first movement and lost his confidence for a bit.
    The eventual winner was Tsu-Yin Huang from Taiwan, who played on the Friday.
    I had a very well-informed former professional pianist-now-teacher sitting next to me. In her retirement, she spends her leisure time travelling round attending piano competitions. She said that in her opinion, Hastings was now second only to Leeds in terms of the standard of playing, the calibre of contestants it attracts, and its profile ‘in the business’, but that much more needs to be done to secure national publicity for the competition. 
    She also said how very lucky we are in Hastings to have the sponsorship from David and Sarah Kowitz.
    Certainly, I was interested to hear from Frank Wibaut, the Artistic Director that there are already live auditions in London, Tokyo, Hamburg and the US well before the competition begins. Incidentally, Mr Wibaut is a very nice bloke. Last year he phoned up Philosopher, who wrote to him about the change in arrangements for the final, and had a long chat about it.
    So, what about the two-night model? I can well see that they now need more finalists than the three playing in previous years.  However, the Friday night, in my view, lacked the buzz of the former finals night, when the theatre was absolutely packed and everyone was busy discussing their favourites. This Saturday night was busier, and much buzzier, but people who had not attended on the first night had missed three finalists, and did not hear the actual winning performance. It was also quite hard to retain enough memory of the first night contestants to compare them with the second batch.
    One suggestion I’d have would be to go back to one night and try a ‘long Wagner Opera’ model, where the performance starts at 3.30-4, carries on with usual interval breaks until 5.30-6, when there is a 90 minute ‘supper’ interval, before resuming at 6.30-7. The theatre, the White Rock Hotel, nearby eateries – and next year, the Pier – could put on quick-serve menues, or people could bring picnics.
    This model, clearly, would depend largely on the capacity of the orchestra – they’d have a playing session of around 4 hours, plus whatever rehearsal time is needed….
    For the HIPCC, the cost of the orchestra must be a massive outlay – I remember a couple of years ago there was much panic because they risked going into overtime.
    Enough of that.  Fabulous weather in Hastings today.  We had a lovely walk through the Country Park and over the East Hill, then we went to have a look at the John Piper exhibition at the Jerwood – nice. Said hello to our little Bratby dog on the way through the gallery. I think he wants to come home. 

East Hill
Old Town from the East Hill
From the Jerwood
In the High Street


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