Eric Charles Chen Wins 2019 Cooper Competition for Violin

July 26, 2019

Erich Burnett

Eric Charles Chen with conductor Gemma New.
Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni

Performance of Prokofiev with The Cleveland Orchestra nets $20,000 top prize.

Eric Charles Chen, an 18-year-old violinist from Princeton, New Jersey, was named champion of the 2019 Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition at the conclusion of the Concerto Finals held in Cleveland's Severance Hall on Friday, July 26.

The second of three performers, Chen delivered an interpretation of Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63, that set him apart from the field in the eyes of the jury, which deliberated for fewer than 20 minutes before emerging with its verdict. The competition's top honor is accompanied by a $20,000 grand prize.

All three finalists performed with The Cleveland Orchestra, under the direction of Gemma New.

"What you heard from Eric was profound instrumental control and rhythmic understanding," said Gregory Fulkerson, director and jury chair of the 2019 Cooper Competition, speaking backstage immediately following the awards ceremony. "He understood that piece wonderfully."

In particular, Fulkerson praised Chen for his delivery of a duet with The Cleveland Orchestra's bass section late in the piece. "It was a true moment of greatness,” he said.

2019 Cooper Concerto Finalists
Concerto Finalists Shihan Wang, Isabella Brown, and Eric Charles Chen (from left). Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni

Earning second place and $10,000 was 14-year-old Shihan Wang of Beijing, China, who opened the evening with Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64. Sixteen-year-old Isabella Brown of Gurnee, Illinois, earned third place and $5,000 with a performance of Dvořák's Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53, that concluded the concert.

By advancing to the Concerto Finals, all three performers also earned full-tuition scholarships to attend Oberlin Conservatory.

“The maturity this year among all three finalists was the strongest I can remember," said Fulkerson, in his final year at the helm of the Cooper Competition. A 1971 graduate of Oberlin Conservatory, Fulkerson taught at the conservatory for 35 years before retiring in spring 2017.

“It’s been just wonderful,” he said of his stint as director and jury chair. “I am leaving because it’s time to turn it over to the next generation. It’s been an incredible pleasure to work with this competition for the last 10 years."

Fulkerson was joined on the jury by Oberlin violin professors Sibbi Bernhardsson, a former longtime member of the Pacifica Quartet; and Marilyn McDonald, a founding member of the Smithson Quartet and the Castle Trio. Also on the jury were esteemed violinist-teachers Radu Blidar, Yi Huang, Almita Vamos, and Naoko Tanaka.

Now in its 10th year, the Cooper Competition is presented by the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and The Cleveland Orchestra. The format alternates each year between piano and violin. The 2019 Recital Round and Concerto Finals were broadcast by Cleveland’s classical music station, WCLV 104.9 FM Ideastream.

The competition’s 2019 field consisted of 24 violinists, ages 13 to 18, hailing from eight countries and seven U.S. states. They competed for five days on the campus of Oberlin College and Conservatory, with the Concerto Finalists determined by Wednesday’s Recital Round.

On Wednesday, 17-year-old Jin Yucheng of China, 14-year-old Yiyang Hou of China, and 17-year-old Enrique Rodrigues of New Jersey and Canada earned fourth through sixth place, respectively, and each takes home a prize of $1,500. Rodrigues also earned the Audience Prize, which includes an award of $500.

ABOUT THE COOPER COMPETITION: Founded in 2010, the Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition is dedicated to presenting an important international competitive opportunity to outstanding young musicians. It is made possible through the generosity of Thomas Cooper, a 1978 graduate of Oberlin College, and his wife, pianist Evon Cooper. The Cooper Competition alternates annually between piano and violin and is open to participants between the ages of 13 and 18. Past winners include pianist George Li and violinist Johan Dalene, both of whom have cultivated outstanding young performance careers.

ABOUT THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA: Under the leadership of Music Director Franz Welser-Möst, The Cleveland Orchestra has become one of the most sought-after performing ensembles in the world, setting standards of extraordinary artistic excellence, creative programming, and community engagement. The New York Times has declared it “... the best in America” for its virtuosity, elegance of sound, variety of color, and chamber-like musical cohesion. The 2017-18 season marked the Orchestra’s 100th year of concerts and the beginning of a second century of extraordinary music making, dedicated service to its hometown, and worldwide acclaim.

The Cleveland Orchestra has partnered with the Oberlin Conservatory of Music for the Thomas & Evon Cooper International Competition each year since its inception in 2010, with each year’s competition culminating in finalists’ performances with The Cleveland Orchestra in Severance Hall. The orchestra has a long and proud history of sharing the joys and benefits of music with citizens throughout northeast Ohio. The orchestra’s partnership with Oberlin is one of many ongoing relationships with institutions of higher learning, including Baldwin Wallace University, Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, Kent State University, the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, and Indiana University.

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