The excitement which comes with the final of any competition can too easily overshadow the immense amount of preparation which goes into mounting an event as important as the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition.
While the two final evenings are exceptionally well supported, the earlier rounds can be just as involving for audience members as they are emotionally challenging for the competitors. By the time the competition opened, the 160 potential candidates from 35 countries had been reduced to 45 taking part. Over the first three days they were all able to play a concerto of their choice from the first list, at the end of which the number was reduced to 21, who were invited to play a concerto from the second list on Monday and Tuesday this week.
It is a highly unreal situation for those of us who attend concerts on a regular basis. Much us we might love piano concerti, the idea of hearing 12 back-to-back is definitely not normal. What is more there is no orchestra at this stage, just a second pianist who does a magnificent job filling in all the orchestration without upstaging the soloist. One has to admit some writing works better this way than others. The percussive attack of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto is particularly effective on two pianos, and the Schumann concerto sounded like a rich lyrical work for four hands.
In these early stages, the audience can come and go between performers if they wish to do so. It can be something of an endurance test, not least for the jury themselves, squashed in the back of the stalls. Each day there are four sessions with three competitors in each, and very little time between. The smooth running of the day continually impresses. The performers – all aged 30 or under – come from a wide range of countries though it is sad to note no British pianist got through to the live performance stage. By Brian Hick.