Last month (March 2019), I travelled to East Sussex, England to compete in the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition. I was very stunned to have reached the final round, where I had the opportunity to perform the 'everest' of piano concertos, Rachmaninov's Concerto no. 3 Op. 30 for the very first time with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra!
The experience was an intense 2 weeks full of performances. I was required to perform 3 live rounds: the Stage 1 and 2 playing the Rachmaninov and Beethoven's Concerto no. 3 with piano accompaniment and a solo recital in Stage 3. The great thing about these competitions of this format is to train young pianists to deal with performing at the highest standards many different repertoire days in a row, which is really what it takes to be a concert pianist. I was very fortunate to be lucky pass through all the rounds to achieve one of my ultimate dream - to perform Rachmaninov's 3rd Concerto with an orchestra. Never have I thought that I would be performing this magnificent concerto with one of European's best orchestras in a competition. I felt myself gaining confidence and freedom in expression during the competition.
Upon hearing the news of being selected in the finals (top 6 out of 176 pianists worldwide), I could not sleep. The next day, I would play the entire work for the conductor, Rory MacDonald, who was very kind and supportive.
We went through the work and discussed not so much specific tempo fluctuations, but about my interpretation of the work as a whole and how the orchestra can help to make it even better. Rachmaninov's 3rd Concerto is known to be notoriously difficult not only for the piano but the orchestra part too, therefore fitting in both parts together will not be easy.
On the day of the finals I was given only 45 minutes of rehearsal, which only allows time for basically one run through of the piece. It went over time as I requested to redo the Scherzo middle section of the 3rd mvt. I had only 4 hours in the between the dress rehearsal and final performance, my nerves was really building up rapidly. By the time I had to play, at around 9pm, I was very exhausted and less nervous as before, because all I wanted to do was to get through to the end of the performance and enjoy every moment of it whether it was good or bad. That calmed me down during most of the performance and the audience erupted very enthusiastically with thundering applause and I even heard a few yelled, 'Yeah!', which I felt very touched. Many came over to me and congratulated me over the next 2 days, and despite the results of the competition, this experience for me was the greatest I ever had.