She's known to admirers as the "First Lady" of piano in Israel, and a local musical contest now bears her name. Pnina Salzman, the well-known pianist and music teacher, will serve as head judge of the new contest, which kicked off yesterday at the Kfar Saba Conservatory and runs through Saturday. Some 40 young musicians from all over Israel will participate in the youth-oriented competition, which will crown winners in the 12-and-younger category and among pianists between 13- and 19-years-old. The younger group of competitors will perform in just one round of competition, playing works of their own choice from the Romantic period. The second group will compete in three stages, playing two recitals before playing an entire concerto with the Israel Chamber Orchestra at the final stage. Only 6 contestants will reach the third stage. Salzman will be joined on the jury by Noam Sherif, Idit Zvi and Michael Boguslavsky, among others. Salzman shouldn't have any difficulty identifying with the young competitors - now 83, the celebrated pianist began performing in public as an eight-year-old. She studied in Paris in her youth and toured the world a number of times during a lengthy career as a concert pianist. As a teacher, she has prepared several generations of successful Israeli pianists, and she has nothing but praise for the contest's organizers. "They are doing a great job, and from the very beginning it has felt like a big event. The competition puts Kfar Saba on the musical map of Israel, and hopefully the contest will eventually go international," she said. Salzman says that the world of classical music has changed markedly since her youth, pointing to advances in recording technology as a major catalyst. "Recording allows for music that is technically perfect," she says. "In the pursuit of precision and a perfect sound, you can record the same fragment 50 times [and then select the best one]. But something important has gone - the atmosphere." She's looking forward to the atmosphere created by the young players at this week's competition. There were just five or six major piano competitions for young pianists when she started, she recalls, and she's pleased that there are now dozens all over the world. "Young musicians see the competitions as important. They hope they'll promote their careers, since concert assignments are often a part of the prize. But above all, the competitions give them the experience of performing in public," she said. Salzman says that she expects to hear great performances at the competition, noting simply that "there are many talented students and teachers in Israel." But was not it she who once said that God is a miser when it comes to spreading talent? "This is true," she says with a smile, warming up a joke about the scarcity of true musical skill. "There have never been no more than five great pianists, three violinists and one-and-a-half cellists living at the same time. It will always be like this, even if millions play." So maybe there are too many musicians today? "No," she says. "On the contrary. I believe that everybody should learn music, since it makes life richer. It's just that not everybody will be able to make a career [out of music]." Three performance sessions take place each day of the competition, with the first beginning at 9 a.m. and the last concluding at 6 p.m. Entrance to the competition is free, with the exception of the final concert June 10. Admission to that concert is NIS 50.