Hastings Piano Concerto Competition finals – Battleaxe’s chest expands with pride….

Well, it shouldn’t be my chest that is expanding with pride, but those of the organisers and sponsors. But as a Hastinga, one can’t help basking in reflected glory…. we went to both nights of the piano final at the White Rock last Friday and Saturday. It is one of the biggest events of the year hereabouts….

      Battleaxe shouldn’t even have been there at all. Well, I told you I was ill. (By the way, I see that Spike Milligan’s tombstone has been returned to Winchelsea churchyard, with that epigraph removed…)  Have still got vile lingering sinus infection thing, made worse by over-exertion at the weekend.  Went to the theatre on Friday night, then up very early for absolutely exhausting time lugging black sacks and screaming at everyone at the WI Jumble Sale, back to bed, then up again for the theatre on Saturday evening. Yes, it was crazy, but I didn’t want to miss it.
     So why was Battleaxe’s chest expanding?
     The Hastings International Piano Concerto competition has been growing year on year. It is now massive, with international auditions in Germany and America and contestants from 29 countries. The support and sponsorship of Sarah and David Kowitz from Fairlight Hall has played a huge part in this, as has the energy of the director of Frank Wibaut, the Director (see earlier post).  Lots of work is done by volunteers, which keeps the cost down a bit,  but it is still an expensive enterprise
     For the first time this year, we had a full orchestra – the Royal Philharmonic. We have had the RPO for the final in previous years, but it has always been the smaller Concert orchestra. I did wonder how they’d fit onto the stage of the White Rock, but they all crammed thenselves on, even the lady harpist (are they always ladies?). She only did a few plinks and a glissando in the very first piece before packing up and going home.

Full orchestra – plus harp

     The bigger orchestra did make a big difference to the sound quality, and considering how little time they must have had to rehearse, it was brilliant. There were a few spare seats on the Friday night, but on Saturday the theatre was absolutely packed, all 1066 seats of it. One thing I never like – no sooner have you got yourself tightly wedged into your seat, coat under your legs – the White Rock is not known for its spaciousness – but you are asked to ‘be upstanding’ for the Deputy Lord Lieutenant or somesuch. Me and P turn into instant republicans and stay seated….
     Because I was poorly, on both nights Philosopher dropped me off at the theatre before driving miles to park the car, and I pushed my way into the crowded foyer. It reminded me of walking into the Prince of Wales pub in Moseley, Birmingham, many years ago, where you could be sure of finding someone you knew within the first five seconds. Sorry to those I met in the White Rock who embraced me before I had time to tell them to beware of germs…  Another brief digression: our friends Sue and Alex were down from Birmingham a while ago and we took them to a Hastings do. They were astonished at the amount of kissing and embracing that went on. Obviously folk are more reserved Oop in t’Midlands….
      On the second night one familiar face I encountered was Michael Foster, our former MP, dressed up in velvet pantaloons, tights, buckle shoes, sword etc as High Sheriff of East Sussex. You wouldn’t have seen a get-up like that in the Prince of Wales….
     Anyway, the standard of piano playing was higher than ever, and unlike last year, we heard six different pieces over the two nights, which was a big improvement. First, we had Rachmaninov’s  Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Remember the Julian Lloyd-Webber version that was the theme for the South Bank Show? That was in Battleaxe’s cello ‘playing’ days, and I remember laboriously sawing out the tune. Then two different Rachmaninov concertos, a Gershwin concerto, and joy unconfined, a Beethoven.
     All six finalists were very good indeed – the jury must have had a hard job. The eventual winner was a young American, Kenneth Broberg, playing the Gershwin Piano Concerto in F. Here he is, pictures from Facebook.

     Like most of the audience, I enjoy trying to pick the winner. Last year I succeeded, but not this time, mostly because I didn’t know the piece he played. I’d picked the runner-up to win, Hans Suh, who played Rachmaninov 3. However, the win was well-deserved, and the young man seemed to have a particularly good relationship with the orchestra. It must have been a less-familiar, more jazzy piece for them, too.

Bad photo of the winner getting his prize – and look, there are the pantaloons…

     So, am off to Cornwall on Friday, staying in the most westerly house in England, right down at the edge of Senen Cove, nearly at Lands End. Next post will be from there…..


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