In its 29-year history, the Gina Bachauer piano competition has undergone numerous changes and improvements that have reflected development and expansion from a small-town event to one of international stature.
The competition's history has also documented founder and artistic director Paul Pollei's long-term vision.
In its early days, when it was still known as the Brigham Young University Summer Piano Festival and International Competition and was held in Provo, the event spotlighted pianists in the 19- to 32-year-old range. This age group is still the main focus of the competition.
Gradually, however, Pollei realized that younger pianists were being excluded — pianists who are equally as dynamic as their older counterparts, but who aren't as concentrated yet on establishing themselves in the world of concert artists. Which led to the competition's present-day four-year cycle of alternating age levels.
This year, it's the young artists' turn to come to Salt Lake City once again and show what they're made of. Thirty-nine participants, ranging in age from 14 to 18, have been accepted to this year's competition, which will be held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
Four are from Utah — Song Hwa Choi, 15; Ruby Chou, 17; Kamala Schelling, 17; and Joshua Wright, 17.
Pollei is looking forward to some spectacular performances from these young artists. "Some say that this age group is the most exciting to watch, and I would have to agree with that," he said. "It just keeps going up. They play the highest repertoire."
In fact, according to Pollei, their virtuosity today is on a par with the artists competition, which features pianists 19 to 32 years of age.
In years past, there used to be a definite difference in the repertoire that these two age groups played, simply because younger pianists don't generally possess the same degree of technical astuteness and musicality as older performers. That, however, is no longer the case, said Pollei. "I always said that one of these days, they (the younger pianists) will play 'Gaspard de la Nuit' and Liszt's Sonata at the Bachauer. And it's happened this year."
He added that they are also more relaxed than their older counterparts. "They have the most fun competing. The older ones are going through professional angst, but these kids are more concerned about their education. They want to make a mark in a school setting. They want to find a great teacher who'll encourage them."
As has been the case now for several Bachauer competitions, there will be no eliminations until after the semifinal round, at which point six finalists will be selected. This will allow each of the competitors to play a 25-minute preliminary round and a 35-minute semifinal round. The six finalists will be required to play a movement from a concerto.
Accompanying them will be pianist Michael Sushel, who also played for last year's junior-competition finals. A seven-member jury will judge the performances.
Pollei said that more than 150 people have sat on the jury since 1976. Most, but not all, have been pianists.
Maurice Abravanel was a judge, as was violist William Primrose. And two former Deseret Morning News music critics, William S. Goodfellow and Harold Lundstrom, have also sat on the panel.
Since the competition is free and open to the public, "people should enjoy it and take advantage of it," Pollei said.
If you go . . .
What: Gina Bachauer Young Artists Competition
Where: Assembly Hall, Temple Square
When: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-9 p.m.; Saturday (final round, awards ceremony), 5-8 p.m.
How much: Free