Piano Forever, an all-Israel piano contest, the first of its kind, starts today in Ashdod. More than 100 local pianists from all over the country are participating in the competition, which will last four days, ending with a gala concert December 19. An additional concert will take place December 21 at Yad Labanim Center. "The aim of this competition is not only to find the most talented musicians, to offer them the stage and opportunity to present their art to qualified judges, but also to encourage the youngest students in their studies and to popularize piano, which probably is the best musical instrument ever," says the artistic director of the contest Yanina Kudlik, who heads the piano department of the Akadma conservatory in Ashdod. The participants are divided into four groups: under 11, 12 to 15, 16 to 18 and 19 to 28 years of age. Each day is dedicated to another age group, and judged by another jury. Many leading Israeli piano teachers are among the jury members, such as professors Emanuel Krassovsky, Tomer Lev, Alex Tamir and Michael Boguslavsky, Dr. Michal Tal, Dr. Asaf Zohar, Rubinstein Piano Competition Artistic Director Idit Zvi, as well as Kudlik herself. The jury is headed by Israeli professor Baruch Meir, who comes to Ashdod from the University of Phoenix in Arizona. The tradition of all-Israel music contests was started in Ashdod in 2004, with the first competitions including several instruments. Developing culture has never been easy in Israel, "but this year for the first time the city Company for Culture is giving us full financial support," says Kudlik. "We owe a big thank you to the vice-mayor Boris Giterman, who heads the Company. They've promise to keep supporting us in the coming years, too." The Ashdod Port Company, America-Israel Foundation and Buchman-Mehta Music School are among other supporters of the contest." In addition to cash prizes, winners will receive an opportunity to appear as soloists with the Ashdod Chamber Orchestra this coming year. The large concert Steinway piano, rented by the organizers for the contest, is another potential attraction for young musicians. For more details please call to Akadma music conservatory 08-8545135/9.