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As Lt. Gov. Olene Walker reminded the Abravanel Hall audience, "We have more pianos per capita than any state in the country." Then she added, "I can only hope they are played on a daily basis."

A good many of them likely will this week and next. And four of them got a workout Monday evening at the opening ceremonies of the 11th Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition.That was by way of the American Piano Quartet - composed of pianists Del Parkinson, Paul Pollei, Jeffrey Shumway and Mack Wilberg - who offered enthusiastic performances of Wilberg's own "Carmen" fantasy and Morton Gould's four-movement Inventions for Four Pianos, Woodwinds, Brass and Percussion.

They were followed by comic pianist Mitchell Zeidwig, who deadpanned his way through a lengthy sequence that found him, among other things, playing Beethoven from inside the piano, taking a pair of chopsticks to "Chopsticks" and administering cough syrup to an afflicted member of the audience.

The assorted mayhem got its share of laughs, but it did go on and on. It was funny, for example, the first time the piano bench broke under him, less so the second and third.

The pianists most people were there to see, however, were this year's competitors - currently 58 in number. Pollei told the audience that Cuba's Alexis Feo Fernandez is due Tuesday evening, having had his visa problems straightened out.

Hence he was the one competitor to have his playing order drawn by proxy, in this instance by master of ceremonies Kurt Bestor, who pulled out No. 38. That puts Fernandez onstage at 1:18 p.m. Wednesday and Friday.

For most of the others, the competition's preliminary rounds began Tuesday, with performances Tuesday through Friday at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., after which the number will be reduced to 20, then 10, then six. Each will then play a full concerto with the Utah Symphony June 24 and 25.

Monday, however, all 58 got a hand as they trooped up to draw their numbers, the biggest ovation going to Salt Lake City's Eugene Watanabe, who is himself no stranger to Abravanel Hall audiences.

The result was a crowded stage, with the pianists at the end bunched up two and three deep. But that will change by the end of the week, too.


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"We have more pianos per capita than any state in the country. I can only hope they are played on a daily basis."

--Olene Walker

Lieutenant governor