Piano Classes for both Juniors and Seniors have been a part of the Hastings Musical Festival from its very early days, and it is recorded that a 13 year old Ronald Smith, later renowned as the supreme interpreter of Alcan, won the concerto class as early as 1935 with a brilliant rendering of the first movement of Beethoven’s concerto no. 2 in Bb Major. In 1946 a Bexhill schoolboy named Philip Ledger won the Under 9 Pianoforte class. He went on to win the Senior Concerto class at the age of 18 in 1955, and among his many professional distinctions, was Director of Music at King’s College Cambridge from 1964 – 1982 and well known to us all from BBC television’s “Carols at King’s”.
After 1961 the concerto class grew in stature as students from the UK’s Conservatoires began to enter, winners were rewarded with an appearance with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and our own Artistic Director, Frank Wibaut, won the competition with Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto in 1968 at the start of his enduring concert performance career.
Sadly by the early 1990’s the concerto class had become so diminished as to disappear all together, until in 2005 and thanks to the inspiration of another alumnus of the HMF, Jonathan Marten, and the hard work of a hastily assembled Piano Concerto sub-committee, the competition was revived under its new name of Hastings Piano Concerto Competition, with the help of our first sponsor, Blüthner Pianos, London, and with the advice and encouragement of Sir Philip Ledger who conducted the Sussex Concert Orchestra for the first ever Final in 2005, continuing as Chairman of the Jury until his retirement in 2011. During these years the Sussex Concert Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Roberts and Finchley Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Lardi shared the role of guest orchestra for the Final. Thus began the Competition’s steady development and further progression into the ranks of internationally recognised piano competitions.
The Competition has been fortunate from the outset in having the financial support of friends and sponsors, but never so fortunate as in 2010 when David and Sarah Kowitz of the Kowitz Family Foundation promised to help us to go forward with confidence. Our next important step towards the meteoric rise of the competition over the last few years was in 2011 when Frank Wibaut, international concert pianist and juror of many piano competitions, became our Artistic Director. By 2013 Yamaha had become our instrument sponsor and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra had become our guest orchestra, returning in 2014 for our 10th Anniversary Final and playing to a capacity audience in the White Rock Theatre.