Worthing is ready to host its new flagship event this month: the Sussex International Piano Competition.
The event will plant Worthing onto the same musical map alongside Glyndebourne Opera and Brighton & Hove, with its city-scale wealth of professional activity.
The Sussex International Piano Competition was inaugurated in 2010 when Worthing Symphony Orchestra (WSO) artistic director and conductor John Gibbons founded and artistically directed the event with WSO and its Assembly Hall residence, hosting a victory for Latvian soloist, Arta Arnicane.
In the three years since, a tiny volunteer workforce from WSO’s supporters club, the Worthing Symphony Society, has grouped behind Gibbons and new organising director Timothy J.Chick, to deliver a confident second edition from its modestly ambitious first. Rallying behind have been Worthing Borough Council and the two MPs Peter Bottomley and Tim Loughton. And patrons have been recruited, including composer Karl Jenkins, star rock keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and BBC presenters Katie Derham, Ken Bruce, John Inverdale and Eleanor Oldroyd.
But why in Sussex has this event sprung up in Worthing? The reasons are threefold.
“Gibbons is constantly offering a varied listening menu with superior and imaginative concert programming”
Gibbons has developed an international level of performance quality from an orchestra of top professional musicians from all over London and the South East, some involved also in the versatile BBC Concert Orchestra. And Gibbons is constantly offering a different and varied listening menu with consistently superior and imaginative concert programming that has gained the edge.
Add the third Ace card of the Assembly Hall acoustics, a subject of pan-European esteem, and the conception and staging of this piano competition places Worthing jointly with Brighton in the forefront of Sussex concert hall music-making.
The second Sussex International Piano Competition begins with 21 finalists contesting solo Quarter-Finals (Tuesday 9 April), 11.30am–7.45pm including breaks; Wednesday 10 April, 11.30am–7.30pm), followed by Semi-Finals (Friday 12 April; 1pm–9.30pm) which will leave three standing in the culminating Grand Final of Concertos (Sunday 14 April). The first prize is £5,000, the second £3,000, the third £1,000.
The Quarter-Final playing order was drawn in February on the same concert stage in front of a WSO concert audience, when Gibbons declared: “To do this in front of our WSO audience really brings home to everyone the fairness lying at the heart of the Sussex International Piano Competition.”
There is a steely determination to avoid any intrigue and eradicate anything liable to undermine or pre-determine the judgment process in this kind of event. Arta Arnicane, now 27, and this time among the judging panel, added: “I’ll be there fighting for justice.”
The 24 Quarter-Finalists were chosen from 83 entries by a judgment panel listening blind to CDs from each entrant. The resulting talent circumnavigates the northern hemisphere, from Canada and the USA through Europe to China and Japan.
Southernmost is Italy, who provided the latest Leeds Piano Competition winner. There is only one Briton but three Russians and two apiece from Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and Japan.
As if this wasn’t enough, this time other artistic elements are sprouting. Work by local visual artists will be exhibited, and there are two extra evening concerts: Arta Arnicane and cellist Florian Rohn (‘DUO conCERTO’) feature in a Worthing Symphony Society promotion on Thursday 11 April (6.45pm).
In the Connaught Theatre on Saturday 13 April (7.30pm) fellow pianist judge Yuki Negishi will play Chopin, Schubert and Rachmaninov. The second half is entitled ‘Ballet Virtuoso’, which showcases the talents of the professional principal dancers working with English Youth Ballet founded by Janet Lewis and includes some great classical and dance showpieces and one based on film-score Gershwin.
So for one week, Sussex will focus on Worthing and the new dimension it is bringing to classical music in Sussex and the South East.
The Sussex International Piano Competition, Assembly Hall, Worthing, Tuesday 9–Saturday 14 April. Quarter Final tickets and those of the Arta and Florian event can be purchased from Wendy Dowse on 01903 753139. Semi and Grand Final tickets, as well as tickets for the Saturday evening show, can be obtained from Worthing Theatres, by phone, online or in person. Call 01903 206206 or visit www.worthingtheatres.co.uk www.sussexipc.co.uk
Words: Richard Amey