Excellent line-up for Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition

The Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition – a competition for young concert pianists from around the world – is set fair for an excellent year after a huge number of applicants.
Vanessa Latarche (credit CHRIS.CHRISTODOULOU)Vanessa Latarche (credit CHRIS.CHRISTODOULOU)
Vanessa Latarche (credit CHRIS.CHRISTODOULOU)

Taking place every other year, this year it runs from February 22-March 2, bringing together 40 young concert pianists aged between 16 and 30. The 40 participants will now take part in qualifying rounds before an international jury of specialists who have the difficult task of choosing just ten to go forward to the semi-finals, five of whom will compete in the final round.

This year all the qualifying rounds will take place at the White Rock Theatre in Hastings, as well as the semi-finals and finals. Semi-finalists perform with the Southbank Sinfonia – a chamber orchestra made up of talented young professional musicians at the start of their careers – and finalists with the full forces of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Both rounds are conducted by Rory MacDonald.

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A pre-screening jury selected the 40 finalists from 250 pianists who applied via video audition from 38 countries around the world, from Lithuania to China, Senegal to Tajikistan.

The 16th Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition took place in 2022 and was won by the 17-year-old Japanese pianist Shunta Morimoto.

Artistic director and president of the jury, Professor Vanessa Latarche said: “250 was an exceptional number of applications. I would have been happy with about 150 so to have an extra 100 on top of that is pretty amazing. I think it shows that we have become one of the major events in the international calendar now.”

Vanessa was one of the three-strong pre-screening panel: “Obviously you have to listen to absolutely everything and you have to weigh it up against everything else. Some people are very obvious from the start and you feel that they are the right level but sometimes the videos themselves are not very good quality, but you have to listen through that to hear what is going on though just occasionally you can't which is a shame. It took us a month and then we came together at the end of the month to finalise our choices. Some of us were very keen on one particular person rather than another but I'm very pleased with the top 40 that we came up with.

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“I think all juries will have their own preferences but I think what you're looking for in the pre-screening is personality even if you don't necessarily agree with what they're doing. You're looking for somebody that you want to listen to and just as importantly you're looking for somebody that you want to listen to again. The bottom line is whether it is correct in terms of accuracy and whether they have got good stylish ways of playing. You're looking at pedalling and you're looking at the technical details and you're looking for some kind of shape and structure but you really are also looking for individuality.”

It will add up to an excellent competition, with the sheer numbers of applicants showing the extent to which the competition has weathered and survived the pandemic: “When I first came into working with the team in Hastings in January 2020, we were working towards a competition in February 2021. That didn't happen but we are very keen to keep the competition in people's minds and run an international festival online. We had to postpone it twice but we finally managed it in February 2022 even though there were so many logistics.”

Now they are more than back to normal: “But I do think we learned a lot from the pandemic. We learned that we can evaluate from videos. Previously they didn't do video applications but doing them now has certainly saved our carbon footprint.”

The competition winner is awarded a cash prize of £15,000 as well as a fellowship award which includes concert and recital engagements, professional guidance, mentoring and advice on making a career in the music business.