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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Jonathan Floril, 18, of Spain, practices at home of Gayle, John Richards in Cottonwood Heights.

Only the best try out for the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition.

Sara Vujadinovic, a 17-year-old from Serbia, is one of them.

This year, 250 people auditioned in eight different countries for the competition. And only 30 competitors were accepted for each age group, according to Chase Kimball, a Gina Bachauer board member.

Vujadinovic has competed this week in the youth category, ages 14 to 18.

Vujadinovic likes the intense environment of piano competitions even more than performances.

"You have the stage," Vujadinovic said, "and the jurors are looking at you from above."

She knows it well. This is her third time competing in Gina Bachauer.

"She's the only one who's done that," Kimball said.

Because of a change in scheduling the competitions, the younger competitors now compete every other year. So Vujadinovic was able to make it one more year.

Vujadinovic is staying at Kimball's house, where she has stayed previously. This year, her piano teacher, Ninoslav Zivkovic, came too.

In the two years he has been her teacher, Zivkovic has seen Vujadinovic's competitive side in another activity that requires speed and agility.

"I hold the world record in texting," Vujadinovic said.

That's right, Vujadinovic won a competition in Serbia a few months ago for texting 150 words in 39 seconds. She said other countries held similar competitions — and her time was the fastest.

"If you make one mistake," Vujadinovic said, "you are out."

She enjoys the pressure.

"What's crazy," Zivkovic said, as Vujadinovic demonstrated her texting ability, "is she doesn't practice this at all."

Her fingers flew as she typed on her phone, similar to when she played a song of her favorite composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Her competitive nature started Vujadinovic playing the piano. When she was 6 years old, she would listen to her 15-year-old sister play the piano.

"I was jealous," Vujadinovic said. "Very much. I wanted to play like she did."

Now, she said she plays the piano better than her sister.

Vujadinovic's competitive spirit has paid off. She says she did well on her first performance in Gina Bachauer on Tuesday.

Jonathan Floril, 18, from Spain, performed earlier this week. This is Floril's first time competing in Gina Bachauer, but definitely not his first piano competition.

Floril is a sophomore at the Manhattan School of Music. Recently, he added a first-place prize from the Kosciuszko Foundation's Chopin Competition in New York to his 23 competition awards.

This week, aside from practicing for the Gina Bachauer competition, Floril is practicing for a recital, a competition and a music festival all to take place next month in Europe.

Even as busy as he is, when Floril is not actually playing the piano, don't be fooled, he's still practicing.

"Before I start to play one note from a piece," Floril said, "I memorize the whole thing."

Floril spends a lot of time thinking about how he should play a piece on the piano.

"Practice all the time," Floril said as he pointed to his head. "Consciously."

Then, when he is ready, he will play it on the piano.

"I just learned it by myself," Floril said about his technique. "I thought it was the most natural thing for me."

Playing the piano does seem to come naturally to Floril. He started when he was 11 year old — just because he wanted to.

"Nobody actually told me to study piano," Floril said. "I was always into music because my father had a music school where he taught. I got curious to play an instrument, and I decided the piano."

Floril and his father, Ivan, are staying with John and Gayle Richards in Cottonwood Heights. This is the Richards' third year to host a Gina Bachauer competitor.

"It is such a rich experience," John Richards said.

In the Richards home, there are two black Steinway & Sons grand pianos placed side by side. Gayle Richards bought the one on the left when she was married. Floril sits at the one on the right and plays a few of the hundreds of songs in his repertoire.

"The one he's playing on is my mother's piano," Gayle Richards said. Her mother bought the piano in the 1940s, and it was given to Richards when her mother died.

"Hers is a better piano than mine," she said.

Floril noticed. Before he even ate or slept, Floril went directly to the two pianos when he arrived at the Richards home after a 14-hour trip from Madrid.

"He can feel the difference between the plastic and ivory keys," John Richards said.

So Floril chose the older piano with the ivory keys. But, Floril says, a pianist has to be able to play on every type of piano.

"Bad pianos, good pianos and many kinds of pianos," Floril said. "You never know what kind of piano will be on stage."

He said a pianist must focus and not be distracted. Even if a piano string breaks — something he learned from experience.

"I had a concert," Floril said, "and I apologized and someone came to fix the string. But in a competition, I don't think you can do that."

Anything is possible. But, just in case, Floril has a secret weapon.

"I have cuff links that I consider are lucky," Floril said. "I got them when I was touring South America."

He said he put the cuff links on for a performance with an orchestra and it was a good experience.

"I have won a lot of competitions in the last two years," Floril said. He laughed at his superstition, saying he doesn't really believe it works.

"But I always wear them," Floril said.

Whatever works.


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