July 22, 2017
By Erich Burnett
Violinist Johan Dalene of Sweden earned top honors at the 2017 Cooper International Competition. Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni

16-year-old Swede caps a dominant week with a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky.

Johan Dalene’s exuberant performance of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D Major with The Cleveland Orchestra concluded the final round of the 2017 Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition and slammed the door on any doubt who would emerge victorious.

The 16-year-old violinist from Norrköping, Sweden, brought the Severance Hall audience to its feet in boisterous applause immediately after the final note on Friday.

Dalene was awarded the top prize of $20,000 and left the competition’s two other Concerto Finalists vying for second place. As it turned out, they both earned it.

Christina Jihee Nam of West Chester, Ohio, and Qing Yu Chen of New York, New York, shared second prize, taking home $7,500 each. No third prize was awarded.

All three Concerto Finalists are also offered full-tuition scholarships to attend the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

“I saw the best Tchaikovsky Concerto that I’ve ever heard,” said Gregory Fulkerson, longtime director of the Cooper Violin Competition and chair of the jury, shortly after Dalene was named the winner. “I’ve been waiting 60 years to hear someone take the Tchaikovsky Concerto and understand the score so profoundly that he can take it to the world and interpret it in precisely the way the composer intended. It was simply spectacular.”

Fourteen-year-old Nam opened with the first of two renditions of Tchaikovsky's Concerto in D Major. Chen, 17, followed with Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 in G Minor.

“In another year, either one of them could have taken first prize,” Fulkerson said of Nam and Chen. 

But it was Dalene who was the dominant force throughout the weeklong competition that began with five days of performances in Oberlin. He earned the audience prize of $500 at Wednesday’s Recital Finals and clearly won over Friday’s crowd as well. As the audience’s applause continued unabated, conductor Jahja Ling ushered Dalene back to the stage for a pair of curtain calls that foreshadowed the jury’s conclusion.

"I think I'll be OK in saying that he was the unanimous choice in every round," Fulkerson said.

Founded in 2010, the Cooper International Competition is dedicated to presenting an important international competitive opportunity to highly accomplished 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. 

The Cooper Competition will return for its ninth year in July 2018.

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