IN MANY WAYS it promises to be a Gina Bachauer Competition like no other.

Monday at 7:30 p.m., in opening ceremonies at Symphony Hall, the 58 competitors - down a bit from the original 63 - will draw for their performing order in the preliminary rounds of the ninth international piano event, which get under way at 10 the following morning, also in Symphony Hall.That's not new. What is is that for the first time nearly half of them, 23 to be exact, will have been selected via a series of Pre-Bachauer Competitions held last year in 17 cities around the world. Norway, England, Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Israel, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil, even Poland and the People's Republic of China will be represented by their finest young players, all of whom competed for the honor - and the round-trip air fare - in contests last year.

"That's the biggie," says Paul C. Pollei, the competition's founder/director, in discussing the changes. "Because that not only means that those 23 have had a chance to think about it and prepare for a year; it also means I will have heard 80 percent of the competitors in person, which is much better than hearing them by tape. That's a big breakthrough artistically."

Numerically, too, as this year the number of applicants exceeded 300. And although for the first time in nearly a decade there will be no competitors from the Soviet Union (hough Israel's Zecharia Plavin received his early training in his native Lithuania, formally part of the USSR), Pollei is obviously excited about the 10 Polish and Chinese entrants.

"I think we're going to see an artistic level we've never been exposed to before, a new kind of playing," he says. On the other hand, although there will be fewer American competitors this year than ever before, there will be a higher proportion of Utah-trained pianists than at any time since the competition moved to Symphony Hall.

That means, despite the rash of unfamiliar faces and playing styles, there will also be some familiar faces. But even here, they won't all be from Utah.

California's Thomas Otten, for example, is returning for the third time, having competed here both in 1984 and 1986. Earlier this year he took the top prize in the Joanna Hodges Competition in Palm Desert, Calif., earning him a New York recital debut next May. So why is he chancing the Bachauer again?

"Maybe the third time's a charm," the 28-year-old pianist says with a chuckle. "But I now have more performing experience - last year I also won the National Federation of Music Clubs Young Artists Competition, and that's getting me a lot of concerts at places like Chautauqua and the Brevard Music Center. Plus I think with any competition it's helpful to have a feeling for what's going on, the general atmosphere, the hall you're playing in and so forth. The first time I was here I was sort of a novice and was thrilled when I made the semifinals. But I was relieved in a way not to have made the finals, because I was not very comfortable with my concerto - it was the Prokofiev Third, and I had never done the second and third movements with orchestra. This year, with the Tchaikovsky (he B flat minor Concerto), I have already played it three times with orchestra."

Contributing to Otten's sense of familiarity is the fact that, for the third time in a row, he will be staying with the same host family, Horace and Helen Rees. "They've been wonderful," Otten says. "We've kept in touch since that first year and they've always extended an open invitation to come back." Another returnee is Jamaica's Paul Shaw, whom many will remember as the competitor who drew the dreaded No. 1 ticket in 1984. (`Numero Uno!" he proclaimed jovially for the crowd at the opening ceremony.)

"You know, I still have that ticket," he says today. And why is he giving the Bachauer another try? "Because I think it's one of the most civil competitions around. The setting is perfect, the camaraderie is ideal and the idea of playing mini-recitals gives it less of a `competition' feel."

The first of those recitals will be the preliminary rounds, at which each of the competitors will perform two 15-minute programs on different days. Based on what they hear, the jury will narrow the number of competitors to 20. Those 20 will then play a series of 30-minute solo recitals June 20-21. From their number 10 semifinalists will be selected to perform another 30-minute solo recital and a piano quartet with members of the Deseret String Quartet June 22-23. From that group six finalists will be picked to solo in a complete concerto with the Utah Symphony under Joseph Silverstein June 24-25.

As it happens, the program Shaw has assembled for his semifinal round _ a pair of Rachmaninoff pieces and Schumann's "Kreisleriana" _ duplicates a recital of his that was broadcast recently in the New York area. Shaw says he was subsequently contacted by a Steinway official who mentioned that a pianist friend of his had heard the broadcast and wanted to meet the young performer. The pianist's name? Vladimir Horowitz.

One hopes we will get to hear it, too.

Retrospectively, that is Ori Steinberg's only bad memory of his previous Bachauer visit, also in 1984 _ namely, that he didn't get that far. "It was nice, but it was over quickly, much too quickly," the Israeli pianist recalls grimly. So what brings him back again?

"Well, the competition itself has a particularly good name, the prizes are not too shabby, and it does tend to give you a lot of exposure. For example, there are very few competitions that get televised, but this is one of them."

In past years yes _ this year no, something Pollei attributes to the required cash outlay. Prizes, however, are if anything even less shabby than before, from the Baldwin grand piano, $3,000 cash and array of concert dates the first-place winner will claim to the $1,000 audience, chamber-music and contemporary-music prizes. Bachauer officials put the total at more than $100,000.

Even the performance awards have taken on an increasingly international air. In addition to a Utah Symphony concert appearance and an Alice Tulley Hall recital, Pollei reports that the grand-prize winner will be the featured soloist in the first summer concert in the newly remodeled Amsterdam Concertgebouw the following season. Other winners can look forward to engagements in Spain, Greece, France, Poland, Hong Kong and Japan.

This year, in fact, two of the competitors _ both returnees _ have already soloed with the Utah Symphony: Salt Lake's Andrew Iverson, who as winner of the University of Utah SummerArts Competition soloed with the orchestra on its 1985 summer series, and Kevin Kenner, who during his brief sojourn as a BYU student in 1983 was featured on that year's "Salute to Youth."

Iverson says he is having another run largely out of curiosity. "It's hard to resist," he says, "especially when it's right here and so well run, and since I'm working on the repertoire anyway. Last time (n 1986) I didn't do so badly _ a lot of good people went down before me and with me _ so I was intrigued to see what might happen."

Another Utah pianist _ this year anyway _ is China's Kong Xiang-dong, who admits that he came to Brigham Young University last February mainly so he could enter the Bachauer. "When David Buechner (he 1984 Bachauer winner) returned from the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition, he told me, `I've heard the next William Kappell,' " Pollei says of his protege. Kong placed seventh in that contest _ at age 17 _ and last year took fourth in Spain's Paloma O'Shea Competition (on by 1984 and 1986 Gina Bachauer semifinalist David Allen Wehr).

"My impression is the level is very high this year," Kong observes. "In fact I think I saw some of these faces in Moscow. At the same time I think I can play well, maybe better than before, so I want to try and maybe get a better prize."

He isn't alone. Other competitors this year include France's Olivier Cazal, who made a strong impression here in 1984; Alan Chow, who, as it happens, is engaged to 1984 Bachauer finalist (nd subsequent Rubinstein winner) Angela Cheng; Korea's Daejin Kim, first-prize winner in the 1985 Casadesus Competition; and Canada's James E. K. Parker, brother of pianist Jon Kimura Parker.

Judges for this year's contest will be Joanne Baker of the University of Missouri-Kansas City (gain serving as jury chairman), Spain's Joaquin Achucarro, Joseph Banowetz, Japan's Hidemitsu Hayashi, Joanna Hodges, Wales' Martin Jones, Germany's Karl-Heinz Kaemmerling, Norway's Einar Steen-Noekleberg, Nelita True, Blanca Uribe, Israel's Arie Vardi, China's Wu Leyi, Hong Kong's Yip Wai-hong and 1978 Gina Bachauer winner Arthur Greene.

Several of the above have already performed this month on the Temple Square Concert Series, as well as conducted workshops and master classes at Promised Valley Playhouse. In addition six of them, along with a number of former Bachauer medalists, will take part in an eight-piano "monster concert" to be presented as part of the opening ceremonies tomorrow evening. Included will be multi-piano transcriptions of the Liszt "Rakoczy March," Rossini's "Semiramide" Overture and Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever," along with an original piece, "Introduction, Chromatic Fugue and Circus Polka," by Israeli composer Ron Weidberg. This event is free to the public.

Tickets for the preliminary, quarterfinal and semifinal rounds are $3, $4 and $5 respectively. Two-evening passes to the finals range in price from $20 to $30. Tickets for the entire competition are $50.

As an added point of interest, the Utah Symphony is offering prizes to those persons who most closely match the jury's votes at all stages of the competition, the grand prize being a weekend for two and tickets to the 1988 winner's subscription concert with the orchestra Nov. 4-5. And although television coverage may be down this year, radio coverage is up. Not only will KBYU-FM (9.1) broadcast the opening monster concert, semifinal and final rounds live (ith David Buechner as commentator); this year the Voice of America will have a crew of nine on hand to cover the contest.

For additional information contact the Bachauer office at 521-9200.