Salt Lake Tribune: New director working to make Bachauer piano competition more international

New artistic director Douglas Humpherys aims to extend the Bachauer competition’s reach.

Published: June 13, 2014

Link: New director working to make Bachauer piano competition more international

Paul Pollei, the gregarious and ebullient founder of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, worked to bring the world to Salt Lake City for the quadrennial competition.

Douglas Humpherys, Pollei’s former colleague and now successor, aims to take the Bachauer to the world.

“I want to turn the focus of the Bachauer outward,” said Humpherys, who was named artistic director of the Bachauer foundation in February 2013, a few months before Pollei died. “We need to take the laureates out to embrace the world of music. My first goal is to increase the number of performance venues.”

For starters, Humpherys has secured a recording contract and a New York City recital date for the winner of the competition, now under way in downtown Salt Lake City. (See accompanying box for details.) The grand prize also includes engagements in Shanghai and at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where he heads the piano department.

“Those continued associations will be really important,” he said. “It’s important for musical organizations to collaborate with each other. … The Bachauer really becomes a mechanism to build the piano world in general.”

“Doug is a perfect fit [to lead the Bachauer foundation] because of his history, institutional knowledge and collaboration with Paul,” said board chairman Kary Billings. “He commands so much respect already.” Though he’ll continue to be based in Rochester, where he teaches 25 hours a week and runs another piano competition in addition to his performing career, Humpherys travels to Utah every other month to attend to Bachauer business. Billings noted that communication technology also makes it much easier to run a Utah organization from New York than it would have been a few years ago.

Humpherys grew up in Idaho Falls, beginning piano lessons when he was 5. “The decision to actually do it as a profession came much later, but it was a major part of my childhood,” he said.

While a student at Brigham Young University, Humpherys won the first BYU International Piano Competition. (The event later was renamed in honor of Gina Bachauer, the renowned Greek pianist who was a close friend of longtime Utah Symphony music director Maurice Abravanel; Humpherys has fond memories of hearing Bachauer perform at BYU. “The first line [of the Bach piece she played] was worth the price of the ticket — it was so elegantly and artistically played,” he said.)

He maintained his association with Pollei and the Bachauer over the years, returning as a juror 14 times (10 times as foreman) and playing recitals during the organization’s off-year piano festivals.

Winning that first competition was “a huge confidence booster,” said Humphreys, who went on to earn graduate degrees at Juilliard and Eastman. “The effect on my career was more apparent later.” This year’s winner will get a career boost, but in a music world where competitions abound, he or she still will need to work hard to sustain a career. “If on Friday night you win a competition, on Saturday morning you’re no better a pianist,” and vice versa, he said. “Saturday morning, you’d better be practicing either way.”

The competition continues

 The Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition takes place in Salt Lake City this month. The first preliminary round wraps up Saturday, June 14; the 37 contestants each will play for the audience and nine jurors one more time before the field is narrowed to 12.

Events are in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City, except as noted.

Preliminary round 2 » Each pianist will play a 40-minute recital in this round, Monday through Thursday, June 16-19, from 1 to 5 and from 7:30 to 10 p.m.

Semifinals » A dozen semifinalists will play hourlong recitals Friday and Saturday, June 20 and 21, again from 1 to 5 and from 7:30 to 10 p.m.

Final round » Three finalists will each perform a complete concerto with the Utah Symphony and guest conductor Thomas Hong, June 25 at 7 p.m. in Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.

What’s at stake » The gold medalist receives $40,000 cash, a recital in New York’s Weill/Carnegie Recital Hall, solo engagements at piano festivals in Shanghai and at the Eastman School of Music, a concerto date with the Utah Symphony and a recording contract on the Archive label. The second- and third-place winners receive $20,000 and $10,000 respectively; each of the other semifinalists will receive $1,000.

Tickets » Preliminary and semifinal rounds, $20, $8 for students; finals, $30, $15 for students. A complete competition package is $150, $50 for students. Visit or call 801-355-ARTS.

Listen in » The competition is streaming live at

Bonus » Pianist-musician Igor Lipinski will present an hour of music and magic at 7:30 p.m. June 24 — the night before the finals — in the Black Box theater at the Rose Wagner. Admission is free.

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