FAIRBANKS — Some of the best young pianists in the world played their opening recitals Sunday as performances began for the Alaska International Piano-e-Competition in Fairbanks.

The competition has brought 22 of the world’s best pianists under the age of 32 to the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. 

Five of those competitors took the stage Sunday afternoon, which marked the first of five days of first round competition.

During the next several days, each competitor will perform a recital lasting between 60 and 75 minutes for a panel of internationally distinguished judges. 

Each pianist chooses their own music and plays it entirely from memory over the hour-long period, often without leaving the stage.

Eduard Zilberkant, professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a member of the panel of judges, said the Alaska International Piano-e-Competition is one of about four of the most prestigious international competitions for young pianists in the country.

Zilberkant was instrumental in securing the competition for UAF.

“Ever since I came to Alaska 15 years ago (or) 14 years ago, I’ve always wanted to create an international piano competition here,” Zilberkant said. “This environment, this magnificent hall ... I think this is the perfect venue in Alaska to feature the state of Alaska and the city of Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.”

When Zilberkant spoke to Alexander Braginsky, the creator of the Piano-e-Competition, Braginsky asked him what he would think of having the senior competition in Alaska. 

So Zilberkant approached University of Alaska President Pat Gamble and UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers about the idea.

“They were very excited about the idea,” he said.

The competition at UAF drew international spectators, in addition to the international talent. Ron Moore, of Toronto, Canada, and Dagmar Romano, of St. Paul, Minnesota, flew to Fairbanks specifically to witness the two-week-long competition.

The two have been to several of the junior-level competitions — for pianists under the age of 17 — in Minnesota and had hoped to go to the senior level competition this year when they found out it had moved to Fairbanks.

“So we said, ‘Well, we love the competition. We love the music. It’s not in Minnesota, but we’re heading to Fairbanks,” Romano said. 

“Let’s hear our piano music in Alaska. Neither of us has ever been to Alaska so this is a wonderful opportunity.”

Romano and Moore said they had greatly enjoyed the first day of play.

“The people who are playing are just wonderful. We love the music, and it’s just very moving to be part of that and to watch how the competition unfolds,” Romano said.

Pianists competing this week are as young as 19 years old, but Romano and Moore said that doesn’t seem to detract from the beauty of the performances.

“The winner last year of the junior competition was 15 years old, and he was as good as any professional musician,” Moore said, and Romano added, “Sometimes I think these younger musicians who are on their way up are even more exciting to listen to than some of the professionals because they so put their heart and their soul into the music. So we just love listening to these young players.”

Sejoon Park, of the U.S., Adrian Brendle, of Germany, Josue Gonzalez, of Costa Rica, Chen Guang, of China and Italy, and Martin Leung, of the U.S., performed for judges Sunday. 

Thursday, after each pianist has played, the judges will deliberate and select 10 of the competitors to advance to the semi-finals. 

First round performances will take place in the Davis Concert Hall from 1 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and from 1 to about 4 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $15 for adults and $13.50 for seniors, children and active-duty military members.

Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: