The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra will host its 27th year of the Hilton Head International Piano Competition this month.

The prestigious piano competition features a three-year rotation of events — an adult competition for pianists 18–30 years old one year, a young artist competition for pianists 13-17 years old the next year, and the third year a festival showcasing past competition winners and other acclaimed pianists.

This year’s competition, scheduled for March 7-14, will feature the adult musicians. The young artist competition is scheduled for 2023 and the festival for 2024.

Competition organizers received 165 applications from 29 different countries for the 2022 competition. Only 20 of the most talented pianists made the cut. The finalists hail from Canada, China, South Korea, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, the United States and Israel.

Competition director Mona Huff said many Lowcountry residents don’t realize what a big deal the piano competition is. “It’s a really well-known, well-respected competition,” Huff said. “If you walked into a conservatory pretty much anywhere in the world and said, ‘Hilton Head International Piano Competition’ to the piano students, they’d know immediately.”

The upcoming competition will include afternoon and evening events at two Hilton Head Island churches: St. Luke’s Church and First Presbyterian Church. Three finalists will each get to perform a full piano concerto with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Morris Russell at the final round March 14. The competition will be live streamed.

That evening the first-place winner will receive $15,000, an opportunity to produce their own CD under the Steinway & Sons label and performance opportunities, including a recital at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall and a return performance with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra. The second- and third-place winners will receive $10,000 and $5,000 respectively. Semi-finalists will go home with $1,000 each. One non-finalist who shows great promise will receive the $1,000 Sascha Gorodnitzki Memorial Prize.

The competition officially begins March 7, but competitors are encouraged to arrive a few days early, especially those who are traveling internationally. On March 5, they are invited to St. Luke’s Church to familiarize themselves with the Steinway & Sons concert grand piano they will play in the competition. “When a violinist comes to play with the orchestra, they bring their violin,” Huff said. “It’s the same for most instruments … but most pianists – even the really famous ones — don’t. So, the competitors have the added challenge of sitting at a piano that’s not familiar to them.”

When competitors arrive at one of the local airports, they are picked up by their host families, with whom they stay with for the week. Each host family must have a bedroom and bathroom for their guest, as well as a piano in their home. The hosts are responsible for transporting the competitors around town, feeding them and supporting them emotionally through what can be a challenging experience.

Host families often develop lifelong friendships with the competitors who stay in their homes. They consider each other family. Some host families even travel across the world to attend their competitors’ weddings and other special occasions.

Another benefit for host families is the live entertainment they get to enjoy in the comfort of their homes as their guests practice for the competition.

“The level of pianists that have come here over the past several years has been nothing short of stellar,” Huff said. “Many of them go on to win some other competitions of great renown. I think the organization works really hard to make sure we put on the best competition.”

For more information, visit hhipc.org or call 843-842-2055.