Italy's Leonardo Colafelice wins Hilton Head piano competition

bheffernan@islandpacket.comMarch 9, 2013 

Leonardo Colafelice

After a week of soaring crescendos and delicate interludes, the 18th annual Hilton Head International Piano Competition came to a rest Saturday night as judges awarded first place to Leonardo Colafelice of Italy.

This year's finale featured five international pianists, all in their teenage years.

Colafelice, 17, performed a rendition of Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major to win the first place prize of $5,000, a music school scholarship valued at up to $5,000 and an encore performance with the Hilton Head Symphony in 2013 or 2014.

Jinhyung Park, 16, of South Korea won second prize and $3,000; Tony Yike Yang, 14, of Canada won third prize and $2,000; Saeyoon Chon, 17, of South Korea won fourth and $1,000; and Yiou Li, 17, of China won fifth prize and $500.

Nearly 600 people filed into the First Presbyterian Church to listen to the five world-class pianists perform musical poetry in tandem with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Chelsea Tipton.

The orchestra organizes the event, which alternates annually between this year's Young Artists Competition for pianists ages 13 through 17 and the Adult Competition for ages 18 through 30. The event featured a field of 20 pianists, which performed throughout the week before being narrowed down to the final five.

Though young, these artists perform with skill beyond their years, said orchestra director Mary Briggs.

"They play with the same virtuosity as the older players. Their technique is astounding," Briggs said, adding the performers "are showing (a) depth of understanding and maturity that is truly amazing."

She said local audiences love the young artists -- enough to invite them into their homes.

All 20 national and international pianists and their guardians are hosted by residents who provide sleeping accommodations, meals, transportation and, perhaps most importantly, a technician-certified grand piano to practice on.

Many host families have remained connected with the musicians long after the competitions ended, said competition director Mona Huff.

The hosting and hospitality aspects of the event are one of the things that make it stand out among other competitions, she said.

But what draws people back to the event year after year, Huff said, is the performers.

"They're a wonderful bunch of young people," said Huff. "Getting to know them has been a privilege and getting to hear them has been a joy."

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at

Related content:

2013 Hilton Head International Young Artists Piano Competition Kim claims first place at Hilton Head International Piano Competition, March 19, 2012

Keys to the house: Host families form lasting bond with Hilton Head International Piano Competition contestants, March 4, 2012

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