Hastings Battleaxe goes to the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition (HIPCC) finals

Were was I last time? Still poorly, I think. Well, am finally getting over it, and my first proper outings were to the above, held over two nights at the White Rock Theatre. Philosopher has been volunteering for the past couple of weeks, driving young contestants round Hastings to their practice pianos, so felt had got to know some of them. The competition is now held once every two years, so the last time was 2022, a dreadful time for Philosopher and Battleaxe, because it was on the very day that both of us helped with one of the preliminary competition rounds in Rye that he got so terribly ill. Thank goodness he has recovered as well as he has.

Here is the blog post about that awful time two years ago.  I didn’t even mention HIPCC then, but what a day we had. I had to turn out as emergency cover because the other volunteers had called in sick. Philosopher ended up sitting with the head judge, Professor Vanessa Latarche, while I rushed about like a mad woman doing everything else, rounding up contestants to get on the stage, and shushing noisy members of the public who came in the back door. Then, later, in the night, Philosopher was taken ill…

Anyway, here’s another post about our visit to the finals in 2017... interestingly, I commented back then that we all had to be ‘upstanding for the Lord Lieutenant,’ which we greatly disapproved of, and didn’t stand up.  This year, the current incumbent, Andrew Blackman, was sitting right by us, with his husband. He is a very pleasant bloke (have met him at Fairlight Hall) and obviously not at all into that sort of formality. Good.

This time, on Friday night, we met friends Peter and Jenny and Richard and Liz (who have moved to Oxford) for a meal in the White Rock Hotel before the gig. As usual, virtually the whole of Hastings was in the theatre – it felt like going into a neighbourhood local – we could scarcely walk a couple of feet before running into someone we knew.

The Royal Philharmonic were on good form as ever, but the choice of pieces on the first night was eer… interesting. The three finalists had all chosen to play Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto No 1! We had three peformances in a row. In some ways it was informative to spot the differing techniques – neither Philosopher or myself greatly rated the first bloke to play, Curtis Phill Hsu, who eventually won the competition. He seemed a little over-fond of the loud pedal. But it did get a bit much by the third time – I heard one bloke say we could have dispensed with the orchestra, and the audience could have just sung along. The contestants all appeared in strict alphabetical order – we felt they could have mixed them up a bit to give orchestra, audience and contestants a bit of variety.

The winner – how can he see through that hair! Photo HIPCC

On Saturday night, the theatre was absolutely jam-packed full. Most people will not have seen the White Rock like that – not a single spare seat. In earlier years, we only used to come on the second night, but the disadvantage was you missed the performances of some of the finalists, so had nothing to compare. This year, one of the first-night finalists won, so some of the audience would not have heard him. It is better to do two nights. On Saturday, we had two finalists, one aged only 16, playing Rachmaninoff/Paganini. The second one, Harmony Zhu, played Prokofiev 3 absolutely brilliantly. She seemed to have complete mastery of the piano… She was our choice to win.  Plenty of others thought the same, but she came second. However, she did get the Orchestra Prize. One can only presume that the winner excelled in the earlier rounds. Here’s a link to an article about the competition. I honestly do feel the competition should get more national media coverage.

Our favourite – Harmony Zhu. Photo HIPCC
Taking her bow with the orchestra

Well, enough of that for another two years!

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