For classical pianist and returned missionary Stephen Beus, gaining experience in competitions left him worried less about winning and more about how he is playing.
"Playing badly is worse than losing a competition because there is something sacred about great music," he said during a Church News telephone interview after winning the Gina Bachauer International Artists Piano Competition.
It has been held every four years in Salt Lake City since 1976. It is for pianists ages 19-32; there are also Gina Bachauer competitions in Salt Lake City for younger pianists, also on four-year rotations. Applications come in from around the world and competitors are chosen from live auditions in various cities. The 41 who made it to Salt Lake City represent countries including the United States, Ukraine, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, China, Romania, Italy, Serbia, Armenia and Brazil.
Being judged the best in the weeklong event ending Friday night, June 30, was very profitable for Brother Beus. One of six finalists, he won performing Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto to claim the $30,000 top prize. But more important, winning the Bachauer is accompanied with four years of concert dates, he said. In the limited market for classical pianists, that is the big prize, he implied.
In spite of his success, he believes his musical education is still in its infancy. "I have a lot more to learn about music and about life and about myself," said Brother Beus, who also won the 1996 Bachauer junior competition. He compared his talent to the gospel because in both cases, he said, sometimes you wish you could understand it all. But the more you come to understand, the more you realize you don't know, so you have to keep studying.
"I love music. It's a serious addiction," he emphasized.
The 24-year-old Othello, Wash., native is less than four years removed from service in the Finland Helsinki Mission where piano time was overshadowed by tracting and teaching. His mission president didn't mind if he spent some time practicing, he said, but the challenge was finding the time while dedicating his efforts to sharing the gospel.
However, he expressed no regrets.
In fact, he noted his mission enabled him to have experiences he never could have had anywhere else, "experience with life and humanity. What life is really like. You get more a taste of it on a mission than in school or anywhere else."
One important thing he learned on his mission in relation to his talent was to "let go," he said. Before his mission, he felt like he worked so hard that he was overprepared for performances. "In Finland, I didn't have that luxury."
He believes his talent was beneficial the few times he did play at firesides on his mission. He said it was good for people not of his faith to see that Church members are not so strange, engaging in activities and developing talents.
Since returning home, he has graduated with a master's degree from Juilliard and is now in the school's artist diploma program. He said the program is designed to launch performing careers and, therefore, emphasizes performance more than study.
His parents, Glenn and Kathleen Beus, are in Moscow, Russia, where his father is mission president, and he visited them last Christmas. They took the opportunity to procure a recital hall for Stephen to play a public concert.
After winning the Bachauer, Brother Beus took some time away from the piano to stay with family in Provo, Utah. He didn't spend all his time with family, he admitted, saying he was drawn to the pianos in practice rooms in the BYU music department.
Next on his schedule are recitals in Lisbon, Portugal, according to his personal Web site.