Spotlight on Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra

Representing South Carolina:
Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra

Hilton Head International Piano Competition


On March 14, 2020, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra performed the finals concert of the International Piano Competition. The next day, live music shut down. Just six weeks later, the HHSO launched SoundWaves Streaming Live!, weekly streamed live performances of varied music from jazz to singer-songwriter, piano and chamber music to chamber orchestra. Most of the 50-plus productions were offered free as a way to maintain connection with patrons and the broader musical world. A Young Persons Concert was also streamed freely to third through fifth grade students across Beaufort County. As weather permitted and the pandemic evolved, some outdoor, distanced concerts were produced, including Holiday Pops and the first large-scale event at Hilton Head Island’s new Lowcountry Celebration Park at Coligny. The HHSO launched a new, free, six-concert Jazz In The Park series during the summer of 2021. In June, 2021, the Hilton Head Piano Competition’s nine-concert “BravoPiano!” festival took place in various venues, with distanced and masked performances celebrating “Music from the Americas” for piano.

In anticipation of its 40th Anniversary Season—and the 10th Anniversary Season of John Morris Russell as Music Director—the HHSO has planned a season to “Celebrate!” with 9 pairs of Orchestra Series concerts, the Hilton Head International Piano Competition, two free outdoor pops concerts in October, and two outdoor “Symphony Under The Stars” concerts in April, the annual Youth Concerto Competition and Chamber Music Institute, and two Young Person’s Concerts in partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Link Up program.

From March 7-14, 2022, the Hilton Head International Piano Competition—one of the leading international piano competitions in the United States—will hold its 25th competition. Twenty of the world’s finest pianists, ages 18-30, will compete in four exciting rounds of competition before an international panel of jurors, to include Chair Jon Kimura Parker, Fabio Bidini, Olga Kern, Tania Leon, Robin McCabe, Awadagin Pratt, and Logan Skelton. Three finalists will perform full concertos with the HHSO for $34,000 in cash prizes plus concert appearances including a Carnegie Hall recital. The finals will be live streamed to a worldwide audience.

The HHIPC operates with a three-year rotation of events: an adult competition for pianists 18-30 years of age, a young artist competition for pianists 13-17 years of age, and the BravoPiano! Festival which platforms past prize winners and famous guest artists through the performance music ranging from classical to jazz genres.

The 2022 adult competition has a nearly $275,000 budget, of which almost $200,000 comes from private and public contributions.



Annually drawing more than 2,000 attendees—more than half of which are tourists or visitors to Hilton Head Island—the HHIPC is one of the community’s biggest cultural events of the year, garnering national and international press and attention. Indeed, the HHSO receives many calls asking about the upcoming competition’s dates so visitors can plan their annual trip. These patrons rent condominiums, book hotel rooms, and patronize Hilton Head Island’s 269 fine restaurants and many other retailers. This provides a boost to the local economy and adds accommodation tax revenue that, in turn, is returned to the HHSO and other cultural non-profits in the form of community grants. Statistics from the HHSO’s total annual audience of approximately 19,000 represent a disproportionate ratio of tourists and visitors to year-round residents, compared with other orchestras.

The HHIPC also puts Hilton Head Island on the international map of prestigious annual competitions. Many HHIPC competitors go on to compete in the Cliburn, Bachauer, Gilmore, and other competitions. The 2020 junior competition winner, 16-year-old Calgary-based Kevin Chen, just won first prize at the Franz Liszt International Piano Competition in Budapest on September 19, 2021.

The HHIPC’s outreach programs include a series of piano performances at the HHSO’s intimate performance space, SoundWaves. The Ambassador Program places competitors in area schools, retirement communities and other organizations and community centers to share their musical talents as well insight into their personal lives and non-musical interests.

The Hilton Head International Piano Competition creates a source of pride within its community. While Hilton Head Island has 39,000 permanent residents, it attracts 2.5 million visitors each year as one of the top-ranked island destinations in the United States. Many come for the outdoor recreation and safe, family environment. The HHSO and its various components enhance the cultural experience for tourists and visitors, while providing year-round enrichment for those who call Hilton Head Island home.

The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra: inspiring, enriching, and uniting the Lowcountry.

Click to View Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra’s Video Performances

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