Jin Uk Kim, a 28-year-old Korean, earned top honors Monday, March 12, in the final stage of the Hilton Head International Piano Competition.
For his first-place finish, Kim earns $15,000, a performance at Carnegie's Weill Hall in New York City and a return engagement with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra in January.
"I learned and experienced through this competition, and I think that's the most important thing tonight," he said upon receiving his award.
Kim added he was looking forward to returning next year to play with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, with which he performed Beethoven's Concerto No. 4 in G major in the final round.
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"The orchestra really inspired me tonight, and it would be my deepest pleasure to work with them again," Kim said.
He also thanked the audience and his host family, whom he lived with throughout the competition, for their support, which he called "heartwarming."
Kim made his public debut at 10 with the New Seoul Philharmonic and has been performing as an orchestra soloist, solo pianist and chamber musician.
He is on full scholarship at the New England Conservatory, where he received his graduate diploma in 2010 and is presently studying for his doctor of musical arts degree.
A panel of seven judges selected the competition's top three winners Monday at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island after paring a field of 19 pianists over four rounds, beginning March 5.
The competition was open to an international field of performers ages 18 to 30, who competed for a total purse of $35,000 plus additional performance opportunities.
Wai Jin Wong, a 19-year-old from Hong Kong, earned the second-place award of $10,000.
American Steven Lin, 22, took third place and $5,000.
The three finalists performed their concertos to standing ovations from a sold-out crowd inside the church.
Mona Huff, the competition's director, said the past week of performances might serve to change the area's reputation.
"This has been a week like no other," Huff said. "A lot of folks think Hilton Head is known for golf and beaches.
"But I think it's becoming an arts destination too, and I am so thankful for that."
Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.