Paul Pollei

Paul Pollei’s Legacy Lives on at This Year’s Bachauer Competition

By Ed Reichel at

This year’s Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition will be a bittersweet affair, because this will be the first competition without founder Paul Pollei, who passed away last July at age 77 after a lengthy illness. “Two years ago [at the junior and young artists competitions] Paul was sick but his personality was there. His presence was felt,” said Kary Billings, Bachauer executive director. “This time around, as we were planning and tweaking the competition, we kept asking ourselves if it reflected Paul’s ideas.”

Unquestionably, Pollei had a larger than life presence as he presided over the competition he founded in 1976 and which he ran for more than three decades. It was Pollei’s vision and determination that turned the Bachauer from a small event at Brigham Young University, where he taught at the time, into a competition that today ranks as one of the most prestigious in the world.

The XVI International Artists Competition starts June 11 when the competitors draw numbers for their slot in the rounds. This year there are 37 pianists from 14 nations, including seven from the United States. Of the seven, Conlan Miller will be representing Utah. “We’re excited to have Conlan,” Billings said. “This is his first big competition after taking first place at the [Music Teachers National Association] competition.”

Miller is a student of Irene Peery-Fox and just finished his undergraduate studies at BYU.

Billings is pleased with the artistry of the 37 competitors. “This year the level of playing is every bit as high as at past competitions,” he said. And he would know, because he was one of the judges at each audition in several cities in Europe and Asia, as well as in New York City and Salt Lake City. These were live auditions although with a twist. “We had a film technician in each city record each pianist.” Then Billings, artistic director Douglas Humpherys and a local judge did the final screenings. “We listened to all the strongest pianists, and we’re very pleased with the results.”

The first round of competition begins June 12 in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Each of the participants will have the opportunity to play two rounds of 30 minutes and 40 minutes, respectively. At the end of the second round the panel of nine judges will pick 12 semifinalists, who will each then play a 60 minute program. The judges will then select three finalists who will play a concerto with the Utah Symphony on June 25 in Abravanel Hall with Thomas Hong conducting.

As in the past, the pianists have free choice as to repertoire for the first two rounds and for the semifinals, an innovation that Pollei instituted years ago. “There are some really interesting programs,” Billings said. “The judges will look for variety of styles and composers and how pleasing the program is for the audience and for the judges,” Billings said. “And I can tell you, there are some really interesting programs.”

For the finale, the participants had to choose from a list of preselected works. “We picked all the big romantic standards,” Billings said. “But there are also some other concerti by Prokofiev and others.”

The nine member international jury includes Utah pianist and pedagogue Susan Duehlmeier. “Susan is a great figure in Utah and we’re thrilled to have her.”

Billings said that people attending the competition will be exposed to a wealth of great music. “They’ll be able to hear so many different approaches and so much that is distinct and unique. And with the different lengths of the programs, the pianists will be able to play more substantial works as well as shorter pieces. They’ll get to express their personality.”

For a list of participants and judges, as well as a list of prizes and awards, log on to

Below is the competition schedule. All rounds, except for the final round, which takes place in Abravanel Hall, will be held in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

Tickets can be purchased through ArtTix by calling 801-355-2787 or 888-451-2787 or logging on to Rose Wagner day passes are $20 for general and $8 for students. Tickets for the final round are $30 for general and $15 for students.

  • Round One, June 12-16: 1 p.m.-5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
  • Round Two, June 17-19: 1 p.m.-5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
  • Semifinal Round, June 20-21: 1 p.m.-5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
  • Final Round, June 25: 7 p.m.; awards ceremony following final performance and judges’ deliberations.
%d bloggers like this: