Sussex International Piano Competition in Worthing

Arta Arnicane, the SIPC Juror and inaugural 2010 winner who drew the Semi-Finals playing order (by Andrew Palmer)
Arta Arnicane, the SIPC Juror and inaugural 2010 winner who drew the Semi-Finals playing order (by Andrew Palmer)

“That was the best performance of Ravel’s La Valse I have heard for probably 10 years.” One declaration from the audience summed up the excitement mounting as the Sussex International Piano Competition moved last night (Wednesday) towards its Semi-Final stage.

Hove piano expert and international artiste manager Tony Purkiss was referring to the appearance on Tuesday, the first Quarter-Final day, of Rhythmie Wong, a young woman from Hong Kong. But what would the seven-strong Jury think on Wednesday evening, after the second nine of the 18 competitors had completed their maximum half-hour programmes of solo piano?

Deliberations took more than an hour until at 9.15pm, SIPC artistic director, the Worthing Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor John Gibbons, announced the final six pianists to reappear in the Semis tomorrow afternoon and evening (Friday). Rhythmie Wong – who, as well as playing violin, clarinet and composing, has a sister named Harmonie – made it, but was the last to be named. She also will be the last of the sextet to play in the Semi-Final, according to the draw made by inaugural 2010 SIPC winner Arta Arnicane.

Wong is unobtrusive, thoughtful, quietly-spoken, mild-mannered and gracious. And she was the only competitor across the two days of quarter-finals who sat in The Assembly Hall to listen to all 17 other rivals for the £5,000 top prize from the Bowerman Charitable Trust, with its bonus of recording a CD at the Bowerman base at Champs Hill Records in Coldwaltham, West Sussex. From such a personality it appeared a calm gesture of respect and enjoyment, and far from a forensic surveillance operation.

The other six Semi-Finalists will be:

1pm: Antonina Suhanova, a Latvian at Guildhall School, she has undergone masterclasses from Vladimir Ashkenazy and Yuja Wang among others, and has soloed in concertos with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons.

2.05pm: Kenny Fu, the only one of four Britons surviving the cut, who has an Elton John Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, and was in the London Purcell School’s Impulse initiative taking classical music performance and workshops into primary schools.

3.10pm: Alon Petrilin, a product of Israel’s Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, he has appeared at St Petersburg’s White Nights festival in Russia and New York’s Carnegie Hall, has broadcast on Israeli radio and given concerts in Western Europe, Mexico and the US.

6pm: Sofya Bugayan, a Russian from Rostov-on-Don, the same home city of 2015 SIPC semi-finalist Anna Bulkina, where Bogayan is the youngest teacher ever appointed at Bulkina’s Rachmaninov Conservatoire.

7.05pm: Yi-Yang Chen, a Taiwanese competition multi-winner trained in the US and Canada and with a 2014 Masters degree from the Juilliard School, Manhattan’s famous performing arts conservatory – music illumini including Henry Mancini, Barry Manilow, John Williams, Steve Reich, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Itzhak Perlman, Stephen Hough, Nina Simone, Eric Whitacre, Marvin Hamlisch . . .

8.10pm: Rhythmie Wong, based in Cologne, performances in Germany, US, Italy, Croatia, Norway, UK, Hong Kong, Macau, Cambodia, Dublin, and New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Jordan Hill in Boston, with TV appearances in Hong Kong, including educational, and in Macau.

Haydn has been chosen by an unusually high proportion of the contestants, reflecting the current growth in love and admiration for this composer so long taken for granted and downgraded by generations regarding his heirs and successors as superiors, and by old opinion-shaping killjoys viewing Haydn’s use of humour as trivial and inconsequential in music.

In this refreshing interpretative 18th century classical alternative to the heavyweight romantic and 20th Century music pervading piano competitions, eight of the 18 pianists presented Haydn Sonatas, including four of the six semi-finalists, with three of those choosing Haydn for this crucial final solo round – Petrilin, Chang and Wong.

Now the next intrigue: here is what they will play in the Semi-Finals (previous round choices in brackets, which were performed alongside the compulsory quarter-final piece, Alwyn’s The Devil’s Reel):

Antonina Suhanova (Rachmaninov, Shostakovich): Mozart, Sonata K311; Prokofiev, Sonata No 8. Kenny Fu (Haydn, Scriabin, Prokofiev): Beethoven, Sonata No 30 in E Op109; Rachmaninov, Sonata No 2. Alon Petrilin (Rachmaninov Sonata No 2) Liszt, Ballade No 2; Haydn, Sonata in C Hob XVI:48; Barber, Sonata Op 26.

Sofya Bugayan (Schumann) Brahms, Six Pieces Op118; Prokofiev, Sonata No 8. Yi-Yang Chen (Debussy, de Falla) Haydn, Sonata in Bb Hob:41; Chen, In Memorium: Japan March 11 (2011); Rachmaninov Sonata No 2; Chopin Mazurka Op17 No 4 in A. Rhythmie Wong (Chopin, Ravel) Haydn, Sonata in Eb Hob XVU:52, Tchaikovsky, Dumka; Ravel, Ondine from Gaspard de la Nuit; Stravinsky, music from The Firebird, transcribed by Agosti.

The Jury are distinguished pianists, agents and managers. As well as technical proficiency they aim to reward quality of programming, artistic flair and connective ability with the audience.

The Grand Final will be on Sunday at 2.45pm, the final three competitors playing a concerto each, of their choice from a specified shortlist, with Worthing Symphony Orchestra and John Gibbons at the helm. Tickets from Worthing Theatres box office 01903 202331.