Every year, Pianists of the Royal Welsh College compete for the Eric Hodges Memorial Prize – here Edward Christian-Hare looks over the finalists. The announcement of the winner of the Eric Hodges Memorial Prize 2018 will be taking place at Weston Gallery, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama on Friday 9th November
Every year, pianists of the Royal Welsh College compete for the Eric Hodges Memorial Prize. Now in its third decade, the competition presents enormous challenges for both the contestants and panel. Each participant must perform their chosen Beethoven piano sonata with technical precision and expression, as well as the Bagatelle in B flat Major, Op. 119 No. 11. The judges then decide on one musician that progresses through to the national stage of the competition.
Dominic Ciccotti, the first soloist and finalist of the Eric Hodges Memorial Prize, played Op. 26 in A-flat Major. However, it was only after the initial two movements that he began to entertain. An important key to Beethoven’s power is commanding relative volume – sharp dynamic contrasts that bring out the opposing sides of the composer’s character. Had Ciccotti accomplished this earlier and spread it evenly throughout the sonata, he would have given a more persuasive rendering of the piece. Despite this, his interpretation of the funeral march was admirable. He strode through the movement with delicacy and poise, spacing phrases adequately so as to obey the expression marking ‘maestoso’. But overall, it felt like he only threw himself into this movement.
The Next finalist of the Eric Hodges Memorial Prize, Cheryl Tan performed the Bagatelle with an excellent touch. Her sonata – Op. 31 No. 3 in E flat Major – was impressive, but didn’t carry the confidence of the Bagatelle. Having said that, the speed of the first and final movements was accomplished well. Wai Yu, the third competitor, was the first to bring a real sense of tempi to the concert. She had obviously practised abrupt changes in speed, which was especially noticeable in the final movement of the Op. 110 in A-flat Major.
After the interval, Xiaoxue Du, another finalist of the Eric Hodges Memorial Prize performed Op. 10 No. 3 in D Major. Whilst she dealt with the relentless semiquavers of the first movement sufficiently, the later movements lacked energy and warmth. One did not feel drawn to the piece, or to the pianist. Nevertheless, it was a sturdy interpretation of a tricky sonata. Yi Tong Lee, playing the ‘Waldstein’ sonata, gave a similar performance in that his playing was suitably vigorous but inconsistent.
Lastly, Yuki Minami, finalist of the Eric Hodges Memorial Prize, on the other hand, was the deserved winner of this round of the competition. The Bagatelle sounded completely original. There was a tangible passion in every gesture, and as it progressed the piece began to feel more and more effortless. Performing Op. 90 in E Minor, Minami was nothing short of a pleasure to hear and watch. Extremely well practised, she glided through a tough sonata as if it were a C Major scale. The louder passages were tempered and tamed by the equally striking softer ones, before evaporating into silence. She was also unique in that she was the only competitor who looked like she was genuinely enjoying herself.
Every musician impressed, but Minami was ahead in quite away. Readers should look out for her in the future, perhaps performing on a grander stage.
The Weston Gallery is part of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Edward Christian-Hare is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.
RWCMD image (of the Dora Stoutzker Hall) courtesy of RWCMD