LOS ANGELES — Loyola Marymount University is hosting the third American International Paderewski piano competition, and this year, the competition bar is high.

What You Need To Know

  • The American International Paderewski competition runs March 21-26

  • It is named after Ignacy Paderewski

  • This year’s competition was expanded from 25 semifinalists to 28

  • Competitors are allowed free choice of repertoire to perform, with the addition of one piece by Paderewski 

The finalists were expanded to 28 from the usual 25 due to the number of eligible competitors.

Yanfeng “Tony” Bai is one of the semifinalists. He loves playing many classical composers, but has one particular fondness.

“As I like really started to learn piano, I get really hooked up with Baroque music. I love Bach so much. If I feel like I’m anxious, I will just play some Bach and calm myself down.”

The Paderewski competition is international for pianists, mostly in their 20s, who are already on the brink of an international concert career. Many have already been performing professional recitals.

An important part of preparation is strategically choosing which pieces to play for the competition. Bai chose to start his program with a Franz Liszt transcription of a Johann Sebastian Bach piece.

“So, that will be a very good opener, you know, to just wake up all the audiences,” he said.

The competition is named after Polish composer pianist Ignacy Paderewski (1860-1941), a household name in classical music who once held the office of Polish prime minister. The competition’s artistic director, Wojciech Kocyan, explained that Paderewski also has an interesting history in Southern California.

“Paderewski was very much connected to California. Not that many people know about that. He performed 19 times in Los Angeles, and he settled in Paso Robles.”

Kocyan explained that at this level of competition, technical proficiency is a given, and the judges are looking for something more in their assessments.

“It really comes down to personality, to artistic preferences,” he said. “I think that they look for what they like individually.”

The competition is unique in that the pianists are allowed free choice of the repertoire they will perform, with one exception.

“We do ask them to play one piece by Paderewski, for obvious reasons,” Kocyan said.

Bai came from China to study at the Colburn School in downtown LA and has the full support of his family, who he says have put a lot of faith in him.

“So, what I try to do was do a great job and try to, you know, organize, you know, just organize your career and your life,” he said.

Although Bai knows the competition will be tough, he focuses on what he has to say as a musician at the beginning of what is hopefully a lifelong musical journey.