To judge from my mail and phone calls, and particularly the response to last year's contest, there is no recurring music event along the Wasatch Front that generates more interest than the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition.
That closely watched train will pull into the station a little less often, however, as Bachauer officials have announced that henceforth the competition will move to a three-year schedule, the next one taking place June 18-29, 1991.That marks a departure from the two-year interval adopted, after a year's hiatus, in 1982. (Before that the contest had been held annually, as part of the Brigham Young University Summer Piano Festival.)
"The Bachauer Competition joins its sister competitions worldwide in planning this prestigious event based on a three-year cycle," proclaimed its founder/director, Paul C. Pollei, in making the announcement. When quizzed last week, however, the only "sister competition" he could think of that is also conducted on a three-year basis is the Leeds Competition, in England.
"Well, let's see," he said, "the Tchaikovsky and the Cliburn are four, the Warsaw Chopin used to be five and may still be. In the U.S., besides the Cliburn, the Maryland is annual, the Casadesus is every two years and now we're three, so what you have is one of every kind. But we are the only one in addition to the Cliburn to offer the winners a huge number of concerts and, especially after last year's competition, we found we were handling a triple load - first the competition itself, then the pre-Bachauers, which we inaugurated last time and hope to continue, and then the junior competition, which was created in 1987. With an office of only three full-time people, it was becoming next to impossible."
Without question the pre-Bachauers were becoming a full-time job, with preliminary competitions conducted in 17 cities around the world in advance of the 1988 competition. Pollei does not gainsay the advantages of that, particularly in terms of international publicity. (The Hong Kong prelims, for example, were given almost as much attention in that city's newspapers as the main competition was here.) "It really opened up the world," he acknowledges. "But since we have already proved the point I think we may try to consolidate a little more, maybe having one European, one East European, one South American and one Oriental competition in addition to several U.S. locations. At least that's the plan we're formulating now."
Last year's contest brought even more complications in that not only were more concerts part of the prize package, but for the first time the winner, Chinese-born Xiang-dong Kong, was not an American citizen.
"The effect of that was to turn us into a full-time management house," Pollei says. "Because every time he steps out of the country we are deluged with an onslaught of visa and passport difficulties, etc., and it takes more time than you can imagine to sort through it all."
Other than that Pollei denies reports that the competition has suffered in the wake of the controversy surrounding Kong's victory. Finances, he concedes, are always a problem, but no more so than in the past, thanks to a steady stream of support from contributors large and small. A recent reorganization of the board, he says, was indeed prompted by a number of resignations, but none that could be laid to the outcome of the 1988 contest.
"Three resigned for what I presume were reasons of conflict of interest. Bill Goldsmith, for example, is now president of the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City, and Barbara Tanner had wanted to step down as chairman for a long time. I certainly didn't receive anything in writing to indicate people were protesting the competition."
Currently Pollei himself serves as chairman of the 18-member board, 14 of whose members are direct carryovers from its earlier incarnation. Plans this year call for the now-annual lineup of workshops, recitals and master classes in June. In 1990 those will be accompanied by the second Junior Bachauer, as well as the pre-Bachauers that spring and summer. Then in 1991 the 10th Gina Bachauer Competition will take place that month in Symphony Hall, with prizes totaling in excess of $100,000 - still one of the biggest jackpots in any piano competition.
"This allows to place emphasis on these individual events," Pollei maintains. "If we had had the pre-Bachauers this year, for example, we'd have had to start setting them up almost immediately after last year's competition." Then, too, he says, he sees this as a way of "letting the world know we're not trying to find a crop of world-class laureates every year or two."
This year's workshops and master classes will take place June 20-30 at Promised Valley Playhouse, featuring, among others, pianists Alan Chow (last year's silver-medal winner), Joseph Banowetz and Sam Holland. Concerts, to be held on Temple Square, will feature, besides Chow and Banowetz, Robert Weirich, Sandra Lau, Thomas Schumacher, Allen Reiser and John McIntyre. In addition Kong will solo June 24 with the Mormon Youth Symphony.
Workshop and master class admission is $50 for the entire package, $30 a week or $10 a day. For information contact the Bachauer office at 521-9200. The concerts and recitals are free.