When 26-year-old Hayato Sumino caused a competition sensation with his shining Chopin solo

15 April 2024, 17:00 | Updated: 25 April 2024, 17:20

Hayato Sumino Chopin Piano Competition
Hayato Sumino Chopin Piano Competition. Picture: YouTube / Chopin Institute

By Kyle Macdonald

Fresh from his studies in science and engineering, something truly unforgettable was created by Hayato Sumino when he made his debut on the piano world’s biggest stage.

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In 2021, at the world’s most prestigious solo piano competition, a concert hall was hushed – and a science and engineering Masters graduate took the stage, a star born.

Every five years, the eyes and ears of the piano world turn to Warsaw for one of classical music’s fiercest competitions. Uniquely, the contest is dedicated exclusively to the performance of works by one composer – the great Polish virtuoso from whom the International Chopin Piano Competition takes its name.

Competitors showcase their pianistic prowess through Frédéric Chopin’s nocturnes, etudes and preludes. Famously his polonaises, or Polish dances, have their own special award on the final night. Past first-prize winners have included none other than Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini and Rafał Blechacz.

There was huge excitement and anticipation around the 2021 competition, which had been delayed by a year due to Covid-19. And now, one performance remains long in our memory, for the remarkable depth of talent and feeling on display.

Watch below to see the magic that happened when young Japanese pianist Hayato Sumino performed in the opening round, playing a nocturne, two Etudes and Chopin’s Scherzo in B minor.

HAYATO SUMINO – first round (18th Chopin Competition, Warsaw)

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Incredibly, piano music had not been the soloist’s full-time pursuit. Sumino studied science and engineering at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology. He obtained his Master’s degree just one year before this competition appearance.

The Tokyo-born artist started playing the piano at age three. Alongside his academic studies and research, Sumino pursued a solo career on his instrument. He also found his own path as a leading figure in classical music’s digital age, garnering millions of video views for his musical fusions, improvisations and reinventions under his YouTuber name Cateen.

Pianist plays 7 levels of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ with increasing virtuosity

This deep artistry and sense of musical invention may have created a cult following, but what happened when he took to the stage for the first round of this August competition?

“He’s a pure artist,” remarked one YouTube user watching this Chopin competition debut. “This is not just great technique. There is personality, charm, independence, passion, creativity, logic, intellect, empathy and a wealth of wisdom from the relatively limited experience of his age. He pours every bit of himself onto those keys.”

The jurors agreed, and Hayato Sumino went on to make it to the semi-finals. The sensation he created in the first round continued into the second round, where his live performance attracted 45,000 online viewers – reportedly a record for the competition.

It’s just one moment in an amazing story. Sumino has since been signed to Sony Classical and made a Steinway Artist, and he makes his Royal Albert Hall debut next week, as the star soloist of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue at Classic FM Live.

We can’t wait to hear it, because whenever this creative is on the stage, something very special takes place.