Since 1978 Palm Desert, California has been host to aspiring young pianists from around the world and has launched many into significant musical careers.  At the same time, visitors and residents have enjoyed listening to great classical piano free of charge. Started in 1978 as a segment of a piano conference at the College of the Desert, the Competition soon became established as the Joanna Hodges International Piano Competition under the direction of the artist/piano pedagogue of the same name.(Click here for Joanna Hodges Bio.)

Ms. Hodges’ original goal was “to provide young pianists through age 32 with performance opportunities.”  To this day winners are awarded recital and concerto dates throughout the United States and Europe.  Participation now includes three categories: Juniors (age 12 and under); Intermediate (13 through 17) and Seniors (age 18 through 30.)

Contestants participate in both solo and concerto rounds as well as Master Classes in each age category.  Winners have earned performance opportunities in Vienna, London, Rome, Carnegie Hall (NYC), Florida, Denver, Snowmass, San Francisco, as well as Palm Springs and Palm Desert, California.

In 2001 the Competition was reorganized and renamed The Virginia Waring International Piano Competition in honor of a beloved desert resident who enjoyed a long and successful musical career.  Virginia (Mrs. Fred) Waring toured extensively as part of the duo-piano team of Morley and Gearhart.  An ardent supporter of the Competition for many years, the results of her leadership continue to be of immense value.  (Click here for bio of Virginia Waring.)

A special category in the Senior Division is devoted to performances of the music of Ernst Krenek, the Austrian composer who for many years made the desert his home.  Sponsored by the Krenek Society and the composer’s widow, the winner in this category performs in Vienna and in Steyr, Austria.

College of the Desert was the Competition’s home through 2005.  The McCallum Theatre is a partner in presenting the winners.  In 2007, the Competition moved to larger facilities at the Palm Desert Campus of California State University, San Bernardino.

Community support includes a large cadre of volunteers who provide housing for competitors and transportation and other services throughout the competition.  An active Board of Directors governs the Competition.(Click here for list of Board of Directors and Executive Committee.).

Major support for this major musical event comes from The Annenberg Foundation, the HN and Frances C. Berger Foundation, the McCarthy Family Foundation and from JoAnn McGrath and her Foundation.  Additional sponsorship comes from The City of Palm Desert and support has come from The City of Indian Wells, the City of Rancho Mirage and the City of La Quinta.  Additional support comes from the Sirpuhe and John Conte Foundation, the Philibosian Foundation and other philanthropists.  Numerous competition awards are underwritten by local patrons and foundations. Steinway is the official competition piano, through local dealership SoCal Pianos of Palm Desert.

In 2004 Dr. Patricia Taylor Lee was named Artistic Director, and served through the 2015 Competition.  (Click here for her bio.)   In April of 2015, John Bayless was named Artistic Director. (Click here for his bio). After the 2005 Competition, the competitions moved to the Palm Desert Campus of California State University, San Bernardino (while construction is in progress at College of the Desert.)  Currently, the Competition occurs every other year, with age divisions alternating. The Junior and Intermediate Competitions (ages 17 and under) took place in 2007, 2011 and 2015. The Senior Competition for ages 18 – 30 took place in 2009, 2013 and will next be in 2017. In 2019, we will have the Junior and Intermediate Competitions again.

In addition to performance opportunities, scholarships are given to both solo and concerto winners in each division. In 2006, the Competition began bringing past competitors and winners into local schools for outreach assemblies.