Pianists of all ages will gather this week for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As participants in the fourth edition of the Washington International Piano Festival, students have been working with prominent pianists in private lessons. They have been attending workshops, lectures and master classes.

Thursday and Friday evening, they will perform individually in recital on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.

"This year, we have 47 students and 13 faculty [members] and artists from all over the world," noted Ivo Kaltchev, the festival's co-founder and co-director. "This is 60 people representing China, Japan, Poland, Korea, Argentina, Germany, Russia, Brazil and Bulgaria."

Washington International Piano Festival
Where: Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW
When: 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Info: Free; 800-444-1324; 202-467-4600; kennedy-center.org

One very unique feature of the festival is that it is open to everybody. This year, the youngest participant is a 9-year-old pianist from Korea named Soh Yun Shin, while the oldest is a 53-year-old from New Jersey, Rosanne Nahass. Ten or 11 pianists will be featured each night on the Millennium Stage performing a short piece, five to seven minutes in length.

"We are trying to include as many participants as possible to perform at the Kennedy Center because this is such a prestigious institution," Kaltchev continued, explaining that there are no auditions to get into the festival and it is open to everyone. "[Students] just apply and send a letter of recommendation from their teacher. If they want to perform, they have the opportunity to perform. If they want only to take lessons, they have this opportunity. If they only want to observe and not play, they can do that."

Some of the guest artists participating in this year's festival include Seymour Bernstein, conducting lectures and master classes, with Leon Fleisher conducting master classes and Alexander Kobrin in recital.

Still, it is the Kennedy Center recitals, in front of an audience, that these students of the piano aspire to and are most grateful for, even though every participant is a gold medal winner, as Kaltchev will no doubt proclaim.

"Our goal is to inspire different generations of pianists to continue loving music and playing the piano," he said. "Every year, the number [of participants] is growing, so probably in a few years we may reach 100 people."