Big talent at Bachauer Junior Piano Competition

Big talent at Bachauer Junior Piano Competition
By Catherine Reese Newton, The Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake Tribune, UT
June 20 2004

Paul Pollei believes the ages between 11 and 13 are make-or-break
years for pianists. “That’s when they decide whether to keep going or
not,” said Pollei, artistic director of the Gina Bachauer
International Piano Foundation. The Bachauer is staging its
quadrennial Junior Piano Competition this week in the Assembly Hall
on Salt Lake City’s Temple Square.
Pollei hopes many young people who are on the fence about
continuing piano lessons will turn out and perhaps be inspired by
contestants who are “the age of kids who, in our society, give up.”
There are 37 pianists in this year’s competition; as this article
went to press, none of the competitors (invited from a field of more
than 70 applicants) have dropped out. “That’s a Bachauer first,”
Pollei noted.
All 37 pianists will perform 20 minutes of self-chosen repertoire
in the first round Tuesday and Wednesday, then will return to play
for 30 minutes Thursday and Friday. The seven-member jury then will
select six finalists to perform concerto movements, with pianist
Michael Sushel performing a piano reduction of the orchestral
accompaniment, Saturday night. Each of the six will receive a cash
prize ranging from $7,000 to $1,000. The always-popular peer jury —
young people the same ages as the competitors — also will award a
$500 prize to its favorite finalist.
The Junior Bachauer once included contestants as young as 8, but
Pollei found the prodigy track a little frightening. He believes it’s
healthier to wait until the youngsters have more seasoning.
This year’s competitors have impressive resumes already. Many of
them have won at least one piano competition; one, 13-year-old Sasha
Clynes of Suffern, N.Y., was a finalist in the ASCAP national
Composition Competition two years ago, and 13-year-old Kazakhstan
native Aleksei Fedorov is a past winner on TV’s “Star Search.” Chloe
Pang, a 12-year-old Californian, charmed host David Letterman on the
CBS “Late Show” a couple of months ago. The youngsters also have
hefty academic credentials: Karsten Gimre, 11, of Banks, Ore., began
college as a math major last year, and SiJing Ye, 12, of Beijing, won
a national chess competition in 1998.
The four-year Bachauer cycle also includes competitions for young
artists ages 14 to 18, who will compete here next June; artists 19 to
32, who vie for the $30,000 top prize in the Bachauer’s main event;
and adult amateurs. “What’s fun is to see when the juniors come back
as young artists,” Pollei said, adding he soon hopes to see some of
these young artists complete the Bachauer cycle.

He is also pleased to note the achievements of Bachauer alumni
such as Karen Hakobyan, a 19-year-old Armenian who competed in Salt
Lake City in 2001, returned here to study at the University of Utah
and has won numerous composition awards, most recently first prize in
the ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards; 1999 Young
Artists competition winner Yundi Li, who went on to win the Chopin
competition and now records with Deutsche Grammophon; and Kotaro
Fukuma, fourth-place Young Artists finisher in 1997 and winner of
last year’s Cleveland competition. “It’s thrilling to think we
helped,” Pollei said.
Thirteen nations are represented in this year’s Bachauer —
Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea,
Russia, Serbia-Montenegro, Singapore, Turkey, Uzbekistan and the
United States. Fifteen of the competitors reside in the United
States, but Pollei pointed out that many of them were born elsewhere.
He sees the nation’s dwindling prominence on the international piano
stage as part of a sad trend resulting from the demise of arts
education in public schools. “Utahns should be the most ashamed and
the most proud,” he said. “It’s such a musical state by nature, but
music is so underencouraged by those who should help” — namely the
state Legislature.

37 young pianists

The Gina Bachauer International Junior Piano Competition takes
place Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.,
Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m., with a
final round and awards ceremony Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m., in the
Assembly Hall on Temple Square, Salt Lake City.

Admission is free.