Steamboat Springs Antonio Pompa-Baldi stretched his fingers and sat down at the Strings in the Mountains house piano to get accustomed.
"Even the same model from the same company can be different," Pompa-Baldi said. "And they're alive, made of wood. The action of the piano changes all the time."
And Pompa-Baldi knows his way around a piano. He is the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano silver medalist and highlights tonight's recital at the Strings Tent.
For the past seven years, Strings in the Mountains has continued the tradition of inviting a Van Cliburn competitor to its annual summer events.
The Italian pianist received two years of concert engagements and career management for a CD recording of his award-winning performances.
Pompa-Baldi said he believes competitions help launch careers and provide international coverage, and he hopes the Van Cliburn was his last.
"Competitions themselves mean nothing. The only reason is to get exposure and experience," Pompa-Baldi said.
He tied for the silver medal in June.
The Van Cliburn competition discovers the world's best pianists from ages 18 through 30. Although the annual competition had 210 applicants, only 30 people from 12 countries were invited to compete.
Pompa-Baldi may be somewhat of a piano prodigy because his innate talent was apparent as early as age 4.
"I knew it always was going to be my life because it was what I loved to do. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, and it wasn't," Pompa-Baldi said.
Currently, Pompa-Baldi is on the faculty as assistant professor at the Oberlin Conservatory and serves with his wife, Emanuela Friscioni, as artist-in-residence at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio.
But while he enjoys teaching, Pompa-Baldi's passion is performing.
Pompa-Baldi's piano concerto is one example of the caliber of professional musicians Strings sees every summer.
Tonight's recital has not sold out, though it is not uncommon for some Strings performances throughout the summer to sell out.
"Musicians come from all over the country and are so excited about being here," said Betse Grassby, executive director of Strings.
Grassby said the summer-long Strings series is experiencing success similar to last year's with a few sold-out shows and numerous outstanding musicians.
The musicians have experienced a level of professionalism and experience that they don't think they'll ever find again in one place, Grassby said.
"I think that speaks strongly about the venue of music," Grassby said.
Grassby's hope is that more Steamboat residents are able to make it out for one of the remaining Strings performances.
"It's a wonderful identity to Steamboat," Grassby said. "We have chamber music that is as fine as anywhere in the world."
National Public Radio provided a boost to the Strings series when it broadcast the July 7 performance of Brahm's Hungarian Rhapsody featuring Soovin Kim, Dorothy Lewis, Carrie Lewis and Katherine Collier.