Taking his seat on the stage of Hastings’ White Rock Theatre, Taek Gi Lee prayed to God. It was the final round of the Tenth Annual Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition, which was held in England earlier this month, and the 17-year-old piano virtuoso was nervous. To his right, nearly 600 sets of eyes watched him with fervor. To his left, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra -- armed with bows, mallets, reeds, and brass -- awaited their cue to begin.
Moments later, the sounds of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor filled the theater. The audience watched in awe as Lee wove through the piece’s complex harmonies and rich textures in a performance that would earn him both Judges' First Prize and Audience First Prize that evening.
“It was, I think, the happiest moment of my life,” Lee said.
In January, Lee, a student of the South Kent School and Juilliard Pre-College, was selected along with 43 other young pianists to compete in the six-day event.
His win has brought great excitement to the South Kent School community, which has been following Lee’s musical journey since he began studying at the school last year.
“There’s something really beautiful about watching somebody who is just clearly gifted, and letting them do what they do best in front of other people,” said Head of School Andrew Vadnais. “It’s really fun.”
As part of his prize, Lee will return to England later this year to perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.