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Young pianists' amazing talent on display at symphony's concerto competition

By RUTH FIRESTONE

Special to The Hays Daily News

The Hays Symphony Orchestra concert on Groundhog Day was one of the most exciting I have attended in years.

All three finalists in the Hays Symphony Young Artist's Piano Concerto competition superbly played some of the most thrilling and difficult pieces in the literature. And conductor Benjamin Cline helped them and the orchestra rise to the occasion.

Chi-Kit Lam, originally from Hong Kong, now studying with Jack Winerock of the University of Kansas, started things with a rendition of Franz Liszt's spirited "Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major" that did him proud. He received an ovation and won second prize of $600.

Daniel Chia-Te Liu, a native of Taiwan, also a Winerock student, then hypnotized the audience with Liszt's "Totentanz" (Dance of Death), a hair-raising composition based on the "Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath) from the Requiem Mass. This fiendishly difficult piece demands all the strength and skill a pianist can muster. Liu brought it off with energy to spare, winning shouts of "Bravo!" -- and first prize of $1,000.

After that, conductor, orchestra and audience needed a break to prepare for the third finalist, Chai Congcong of Xian, China, yet another student of Winerock. Congcong gave a fine performance of "Piano Concerto No. 1" by Sergei Rachmaninoff, another giant of the concerto literature. Unfortunately, almost anything that has to follow Liszt falls a little flat. But someone had to win third prize. Congcong received $400.

I came away from the concert with several thoughts. The judges -- Irena Ravitskaya, Ivalah Allen and Leann Hillmer -- must have had to split hairs to rank the finalists. I would have awarded first prize to all three. Also, I was grateful to Claire Matthews, season sponsor, and to Gary and Ila Hulett, sponsors of this concert. But finally, to quote Winston Churchill, I was sorry "so many owe so much to so few." All are invited to join the Hays Symphony Guild. For information, call Terry Crull, president, at (785) 628-4258.

Ruth Firestone, Hays, is an avid supporter of the arts and a frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.