The Van Cliburn Foundation has announced that 214 pianists from 37 countries have applied to compete in the eighth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the largest number of applications ever received in the competition's 27-year history.

That number does not include applications from the Soviet Union or from China, where government agencies were to pre-process applications under a special agreement, said Richard Rodzinski, foundation executive director.Rodzinski said the high level of interest not only indicates the high regard for the competition itself but "an indication of the trust these musicians place in the foremost competitions' ability to attract attention and help launch their careers."

The first round of auditions takes place in January. The number of finalists will be narrowed to 35, and the final competition will take place in Fort Worth, Texas, from May 27-June 11.