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Weiyi Le

At the moment, everyone at the Gina Bachauer Foundation is frantically gearing up for a madcap two weeks of competition, as the junior and young artists competition levels are set to start Monday.

And while Paul Pollei and his staff put the finishing touches on preparations and make sure everything is in place, young pianists from around the world have slowly converged on Salt Lake City, hoping their talent and artistry will land them a coveted first-place win.

And winning a youth competition can, and often is, a springboard for future competitions as a young adult and also for a successful professional career.

"We develop artists out of our junior and young artists competitions," said Pollei, founder and artistic director of the Gina Bachauer Foundation. "You'd be amazed to know how many have gone on from here to other competitions and on to major careers."

The Bachauer Foundation also holds the major Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition and Festival every four years. The next festival is scheduled for 2010.

Among Bachauer alumni, Hong Xu, who won in 2001, is a doctoral candidate at the Juilliard School. He recently performed Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto with the Juilliard Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Others have won major international competitions, including the Montreal Piano Competition.

But without question, the most famous Bachauer winner was Yundi Li, who took first prize in the young artists competition in 1999, and then followed up that win with a gold medal at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. He's now an international star with a lucrative recording deal with DG.

This year, Pollei is doing things a little differently. In the past, the junior and young artists competitions have been held in successive years. This year, however, they take place back to back in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. The junior competition (for ages 11-13) begins Monday and runs through Saturday. The young artists competition (for 14- to 18-year-olds) runs June 23-28.

The reason behind Pollei's decision to go with this dual format is simple economics. "There's the economy of using one jury for both," he said, adding that this is a pattern followed by several other competitions.

While it may be fiscally prudent to do it this way, it's been a burden on everybody involved in arranging it. "It's trying to have back-to-back competitions," Pollei said, "but I think it's going to work out really well."

There are 33 participants from eight countries scheduled to compete on the junior level, and 30 competitors from 11 countries on the young artists level. There are two Utahns in the competition: 13-year-old Weiyi Le and 18-year-old Song Choi, who was the soloist in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Utah Symphony's All-Star concert last month.

Unlike most other competitions, which allow video auditions, the Bachauer chooses its participants from live auditions around the world.

"We held eight auditions," said Pollei, who was one of the judges at each venue. There were four auditions in Asia (Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul); two in Europe (Paris and Hamburg); and two in the United States (New York City and Salt Lake City).

"We had 250 kids apply," he said, "so it was a real challenge narrowing it down. We only admitted those who received a 'yes' vote from each judge. And we had to turn some away."

As with every Bachauer competition now, there will be no eliminations in each competition until the end of the semifinal round, when six finalists will be selected. For the junior competitors, that means they play a 20-minute program for the first round and a 30-minute program for the second. The young artists participants will play 25-minute and 35-minute programs. For the last round in each competition, each finalist will play one movement from a concerto.

Judging both competitions will be a nine-member jury headed by Douglas Humphreys, who was the gold medalist at the first Bachauer competition in 1976 and who has judged every single Bachauer event since. He will be joined by Rolf-Dieter Arens, Paola Bruni, Alan Chow, Mirian Conti, Faina Lushtak, Thomas Schumacher, Zhe Tang and Veda Zuponcic, who was last seen in Utah in March performing at the Bonneville Chamber Music Festival at Weber State University.

The competitors this year may be children and young teenagers, but don't let their ages fool you, Pollei said. "They are really marvelous. It's just unbelievable what they can do."

He believes that the caliber of playing these youngsters exhibit is continually on the rise. "Especially among the youngest, the level of playing feels like it's getting better over the years."

If you go ...

What: Gina Bachauer International Junior Competition

Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center

When: Monday through Saturday


What: Gina Bachauer International Young Artists Competition

Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center

When: June 23-28

How much: $10 day pass, $100 two-week pass, $5/$50 students

Phone: 297-4250

E-mail: [email protected]