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They’re young, but they’re serious

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They're young, but they're serious. And they're coming from all over the globe — China, Russia, Australia — to compete in this year's Gina Bachauer International Junior Piano Competition.

The Junior Competition brings some of the world's finest 11-to-13-year-old piano artists together in Salt Lake City for one week. "We're lucky to have this model in front of us, this offering in front of us for the month of June," said Paul Pollei, founder and artistic director of the competition. "It really is an opportunity for people their own age and others to enjoy the influence of people from all over the world — and just enjoy and participate in the exposition of such good performances."

Most of the competitors come from outside the United States, although Pollei pointed out that one — Bethany Richards — is from Utah.

The 37 competitors scheduled to appear were chosen from some 60 applicants who, in the audition process, submitted CDs of their playing.

"(One competitor) said her goal is to get in the preparatory department of the Juilliard School of Music, and another one says that his goal is to become a concert pianist," said Pollei, "so we have all those kind of things. These are all the ones that will go on to the next level of competition, and these are the ones we'll hear from."

Pollei said that one previous winner of the Junior Bachauer Competition went on to win the Young Artists competition, then the Chopin competition in Warsaw. Now he has a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.

The competition's policy is to allow free repertory — competitors can choose any pieces they want to play. The only restriction is that they must adhere to the time limits for each round and select a first movement from any concerto for the final round. "Every time I do this," Pollei said, "I'm just totally blown away by the repertory that these little kids are playing. They're playing the highest repertory that's written. They're playing it beautifully and with great distinction."

While standard competitions eliminate a number of competitors in each round as a gradual thinning-out process, the Gina Bachauer competitions — all of them — feature a no-elimination policy. That means that all chosen competitors will play in all rounds, except the final

one. This year, each competitor will play a total of 50 minutes of music in two different rounds before the six finalists are chosen. On Saturday, the night of the finals, six competitors will present their concerto movements with an accompanist playing a piano reduction of the orchestral score.

One of the interesting aspects created by the young ages of the junior competitors, said Pollei, is the housing challenge. "You can't send an 11-year-old around the world by himself or herself, and so they come with the biggest entourage. There could be a mother, a father, a teacher, a grandma."

Out of consideration to the host families, the guests are generally limited to two per home, and the Bachauer housing coordinators are kept busy finding lodging for everybody. "But somehow we make it work."

Another interesting aspect to this competition, said Pollei, is the number of American-born competitors. Less than half are from the United States, and most of those listed have foreign surnames. "That means that almost all of them are all from other countries — in other words, born and trained in other countries. So really, now, there's that old problem again, that the other countries are loving competitions, but America (is not).

"The countries that are sweeping throughout the world in competitions are Russia, China, Korea and Japan. You notice there's no Germany, there's no Italy, there's no France. Unfortunately, they're following the same trend as America."

E-mail: rcline@desnews.com