It is no secret that we in Israel have much to offer the world on the classical music front, as we continue to churn out talented musicians in doublequick time. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, for example, have fine academies that produce well-trained instrumentalists and vocalists, who later get to share stages and hobnob with some of the world’s greatest music icons.But when it comes to addressing classical music needs in the junior section, it appears that Kfar Saba has them all licked.Next week the Music and Dance Center in Kfar Saba is hosting the third Pnina Saltzman piano competition for children and youth. The contestants are divided into two age groups – children up to the age of 15, and youth aged 15-19.“The youngest entrants are normally around 10 years old,” explains manager of the Kfar Saba Municipality’s department of culture, youth and sport, Ya’ir Mashiach. “There is no formal lower age limit, but it is very much an individual thing.“Some children have a tougher mentality than others and start to compete at a young age, but we leave such considerations to the parents.”Next week’s competition, which was initiated by local lawyer Amos Gavrieli, will see around 40 youngsters vying for top place in their respective age groups, as they work their way through a selection process and a preliminary round en route to the grand finals.After having CDs or other evidence of their musical ability screened, the younger entrants will be required to play a piece lasting around 15 to 20 minutes. Contestants have free rein when it comes to selecting the work; however, the competition rules stipulate that the piece must date from the Romantic period, and embrace different styles. “Pnina Saltzman preferred that era,” explains Mashiach. “There is a lot of music and a lot of literature devoted to that time, and the children and youth can gain a well-rounded picture of the era.”Contestants in the older group play one work of 15 to 20 minutes, followed by a recital lasting 20 to 30 minutes in their first round. Up to five pianists in each age group will proceed to the final, which will be a much grander affair.“The requirements of this competition promote excellence,” observes Mashiach. “It is the only classical music competition in the country that requires the contestants to play with a full orchestra [the New Haifa Symphony Orchestra under Yoni Farhi, in the final]. That gives the youngsters a wonderful experience.”According to Kfar Saba Municipality culture head Ya’ir Avraham, the town has become the epicenter of national junior classical musical endeavor.Avraham is also chairman of the Sapir corporation, which runs Sapir House, home to the local music and dance conservatory.AVRAHAM MAKES no bones about his pride in the institution and what it has done for young classical musicians in the city, and elsewhere around the country.“This is a wonderful center. It is custom-built for classical music in terms of equipment, acoustics and technology, and a lot has been invested in renovating the old Sapir House and adding a new floor.”The makeover came at quite a cost, and not just in a financial sense. “Around NIS 50 million was put into the renovations and construction work,” says Avraham. “I can tell you the mayor and the people who initiated the project took a lot of flack over the cost, but the center has done so much for the kids and for the town. Anyone who loves music and culture, who comes to the center, gets a wonderful impression. I’d even go so far as to say that they are amazed by what they find here.”Salzman was clearly impressed by what she found in Kfar Saba. After serving as head of the piano department at Tel Aviv University, toward the end of her life she transferred her professional duties to Kfar Saba and became an ardent supporter of efforts to develop young pianistic talent in the town. At the age of 84, shortly before she died, she took an active role in the competition which bears her name, and was on the panel of judges for the inaugural contest in 2006.“I am sure Pnina would have been delighted with the way the center and the competition have developed,” says Avraham. “We undertook to continue her work, and we are putting a lot into it.”According to Avraham, the music and dance institute and the competition offer far more than just a chance to hone artistic skills and, possibly, find fame and fortune.“It is a matter of education, in the wider sense of the word. The children and youth learn to play music and to listen, and acquire skills they will use later on in their adult life. Music gives these kids priceless skills that they can’t get at their school. I would hope that the Education Ministry and the other authorities take note of this. Kids and youth need this emotional balance.”Avraham adds that the youngsters do more than just polish their playing expertise at the center.“You should see the kids here. The lessons take place here during school hours and it is also very much a matter of kids coming together to socialize, and to share something meaningful. They come here when they are small, in second or third grade, and they progress to their school ensembles. Then, if they are good, they become players in ensembles which represent the town.”The center, says Avraham, adopts an all-embracing ethos on a number of fronts.“Here, music and dance and other arts mix, as do the departments for the different instruments, so the children get a more comprehensive education. And this isn’t just a place for kids with wealthy parents. I want all children to be able to come here and learn to play and love music.“ Both Avraham and Mashiach are keen to point out that, besides the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition, the Pnina Saltzman piano competition is the only competitive musical event in the country that has an international panel of judges.“This year we have [72-year-old Russian pianist-teacher] Oxana Yablonskaya and [50-year-old French pianist] Michel Bourdoncle as judges,” says Mashiach. “Bourdoncle will also give a recital and a master class. I am sure that will add a lot to the spirit of the competition.”Bourdoncle will also invite the competition winners to play at the classical music festival he runs in Lille, France. The finalists will receive money prizes ranging from NIS 500 to NIS 10,000.