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Bachauer amateurs play with passion

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It's hard not to like people who are motivated by love for music, and that makes the competitors at the Gina Bachauer International Amateur Piano Competition some of the most likable people around.

This year, the entrants are entirely composed of amateurs — non-professional musicians who practice and perform entirely for the music — a new concept for the Gina Bachauer Competition.

With round one drawing to a close Wednesday night (competitors played Tuesday and Wednesday), there are certainly a few stand-outs that will most likely make it to the finals, which will be held Saturday night in the Assembly Hall.

Suzanna Perez (USA), in a stellar performance of Haydn, Chopin and Albeniz, has already nudged toward the lead, along with Michael Moore (USA) and Hiroko Ohtani (USA). Rika Fukuda (Japan), Thomas Maurice (USA), Jonathan Hanks (USA) and Eberhard Zagrosek (Germany) have also given outstanding performances and — if continued — have a great shot at making the final round.

Salt Lake local Nancy Futrell also made a strong showing with performances of Prokofiev, Debussy and Bach, but may have been hurt by a minor memory slip in her performance. Other notables include Linda Poligono-Webster (USA), John Gardeski (USA) and Charles Chien (USA). Although — like Futrell — how far they go in the competition will probably be determined by what and how they play in the second round tonight and Friday.

This is the first time an amateur competition has been offered by the Gina Bachauer Foundation, and this contest seems to offer the most variation from person to person. Some of the competitors, for example Perez and Ohtani, are near-professional quality, and with a little luck could probably pursue a professional music career. These performances tend to reflect more top-notch interpretations and performances, usually staying truer to the commonly accepted interpretation of the various composers' style and intentions.

Others clearly play for their own satisfaction and use the music as a vehicle for personal expression. These performers tend to pour a lot of energy — often sloppily — into the piece. In any case, it's inspiring to hear people who are so passionate of the music.

The semi-final rounds will be held today and Friday from noon to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in the Assembly Hall. The six finalists will be announced at the conclusion of Friday's performances. The final round will be held Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Assembly Hall.

E-mail: rcline@desnews.com