Backstage at the 2024 Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition: Host families make a lasting connection with their guest pianist

One significant, indispensable feature of the Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition is the role of host families in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area who open their homes to a quarterfinalist. For ardent fans of classical music who have a spare room and a grand piano available, the opportunity to host a young musician during the competition has led not only to a fascinating cultural exchange but also  long-lasting friendships with the pianists. 

Among this year’s host families are two veterans: Betty and Frank Yanowitz, who have hosted a Bachauer competitor since 2002, and Tish and Brian Buroker, who are about to welcome their fourth competition guest to their home.

After retiring from a management career in nursing, Tish Buroker said in an interview with The Utah Review, “I worked for a lot of years and we always followed Bachauer whenever it came up in the news. When I retired, I loved listening to amazing piano music all day during the competition and when Brian and I learned about the opportunity to host someone, we immediately took it. We have a really good piano and what a great way to have it used. It has been a positive experience.”

This year, the Burokers are hosting quarterfinalist Curtis Phill Hsu, 19 (U.S., Taiwan). At the previous International Artists Competition in 2018, they hosted Changyong Shin from Korea, who won the gold medal, and, in fact, Shin has returned to their home whenever he has returned to Salt Lake City. The Burokers also went to New York City in 2021, when Shin performed his Carnegie Hall recital, which is part of the first prize package.

Tish and Brian enjoy spending a lot of time with the contestants.Tish plays the piano and organ and gives lessons, while Brian, who also retired from a nursing career, said, humorously, “I play the radio.”

The guests spend virtually their entire time practicing, sleeping and eating. “They are so good and so committed,” Tish added, “and we respect deeply their work ethic.”

Brian and Tish Buroker

The Burokers enjoy how music’s cosmopolitan dynamic can make people feel so comfortable in any culture. Tish recalls the poignant connection with a Russian pianist they hosted. ”She had very few options in front of her because the alternative if she didn’t win would be to focus the rest of her life performing and teaching music back home or in the academy. When she was young, the government had channeled her into a music program so the impact definitely was more stressful.”

The Burokers were thrilled when Shin won the gold medal in 2018. “We were like proud parents as if he was our own child,” Brian said. With a two-week competition and the costs of traveling thousands of miles, pianists typically come to Salt Lake City alone and the host family program relieves an immense burden. They do not have to worry about finding affordable lodging, navigating an unfamiliar city, having access to a grand piano for practicing, or wondering about meals. Practicing and preparing for the commotion takes up the largest portion of their time.

The Burokers said the competitors they have hosted have been gracious and are willing to eat just about anything but they also love learning about their personal preferences.

Recalling the Russian pianist they hosted, Tish said, “She was always hungry as if she had not previously been given enough food at home. She loved meat and potatoes but not so much fruits and veggies,” On the other hand, Shin loved rice and vegetables. The one thing Shin always needed was his Starbucks coffee. At the time when Shin competed six years ago, the Burokers, who live in Riverton, had to venture a bit farther than usual because a Starbucks shop was not close to their home. That, of course, has changed now that the south valley suburb has grown substantially. 

Tish’s most cherished memory of Shin came when the pianist returned to Utah in 2022, to perform with the Utah Symphony in a Deer Valley Summer Series concert. He dedicated his performance of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini to the Burokers. “That was the treat of a lifetime,” she added.

Betty and Frank Yanowitz have hosted competitors in every Bachauer competition for the last 22 years and this year, they will be hosting quarterfinalist TianYi Li, 26, from China, who is in the midst of working toward his doctor of musical arts degree at Juilliard in New York City. 

Frank and Betty Yanowitz.

The Yanowitzes are lifetime music lovers. Frank, a retired physician, is also a fan of jazz piano. The couple made their first connection to Bachauer in the early years of the competition through a close friend, Gladys Gladstone Rosenberg, a former Bachauer jury member and the pianist who helped found the Utah Symphony’s Salute to Youth program with the late maestro Maurice Abravanel.

“We love having the competitors in our home, and we enjoy having a good chunk of time listening to them and being a part of the competition,” Frank said. Only one of the pianists they hosted has made it as far as the semifinals.

The Yanowitzes have stayed in touch with their guests, long after they left Salt Lake City. They follow their careers closely, including watching their videos on YouTube channels as well as on other social media platforms. They have met former competitors in Moscow and in Israel, for example, and have gone to New York City to attend a Carnegie Hall concert by a former Bachauer competitor. “We learn something from them and we get a lot out of this experience by seeing first-hand what drives them,” Frank said. “In the time they spend with us, we feel like they have become part of the family so when they hear news that they will not be advancing to the next round, we share their disappointment.”

With their children and grandchildren grown and no pets, the Yanowitz home is quiet and is a perfect spot for their guest pianist, who have their own spacious room  and bathroom on the lower level. The couple, of course, make sure their piano is tuned and in perfect order. Their guests have offered short informal concerts as well. “One of the reasons we got involved with hosting for Bachauer was for our daughter and two grandkids, so that they would be exposed to role models who are very talented, very committed people making beautiful music,” Betty said. “In some cases, our grandkids were close in age to some of the competitors.”

The Yanowitzes especially love how well the pianists in the competition know each other. “We”ve hosted parties for them and it is really nice to listen to them talk and interact with each other,” Frank added.

For more information and tickets about the upcoming competition, see the Bachauer website.

Leave a Reply