July 22, 2016
Erich Burnett
Seventeen-year-old Ryota Yamazaki of Japan earned top honors at the 2016 Cooper International Competition. Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni

Ryota Yamazaki, a 17-year-old pianist from Koriyama, Japan, earned top honors in the Concerto Finals of the 2016 Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition July 22 at Severance Hall in Cleveland.

Performing with The Cleveland Orchestra, Yamazaki closed the concert with a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18—the evening's second version of "Rocky 2." Fourteen-year-old Nathan Lee of Sammamish, Washington, opened with the second Rachmaninoff concerto, for which he earned third prize.

Seventeen-year-old Evren Ozel of Minneapolis, Minnesota, earned second prize for his performance of Beethoven's Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58.

The jury's verdict was announced from the stage of Severance Hall after 15 minutes of deliberation.

Now in its seventh year, the Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition is presented annually by the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and The Cleveland Orchestra. The format alternates each year between piano and violin.

The Concerto Finals marked the end of seven days of Cooper performances, including an honors recital—featuring outstanding performers from the competition's semifinal rounds—in Oberlin on Thursday night. The 2016 field consisted of 29 pianists hailing from eight countries and 14 U.S. states, in addition to the District of Columbia.

Yamazaki’s title includes a $20,000 prize—the largest first prize in Cooper Competition history. Ozel earns $10,000 for second place, and Lee takes home $5,000 for third. By advancing to the Concerto Finals, all three performers earn full-tuition scholarships to attend the Oberlin Conservatory, a prize valued at approximately $200,000.

The Cooper Competition's overall cash prize packaged doubled in 2016 to $40,000, including $1,500 each for 15-year-old Chaewon Kim of Suwon City, South Korea; 16-year-old Andrew Li of Lexington, Massachusetts; and 17-year-old Clayton Stephenson of New York, New York; who finished fourth through sixth, respectively, at the Recital Finals in Oberlin on July 20. That evening, Lee won the audience prize of $500.

For the first time, the Cooper Competition’s Concerto Finals were part of The Cleveland Orchestra’s popular Summers@Severance series. Festivities opened with a pre-concert mixer and concluded with a post-concert reception as jurors deliberated. The Concerto Finals were broadcast live by Cleveland's classical music station, WCLV 104.9 FM Ideastream.

The 2016 Cooper jury consisted of esteemed pianists from the Oberlin Conservatory faculty and acclaimed performer-pedagogues from throughout the world. Along with Oberlin professors Alvin Chow, Angela Cheng, Monique Duphil, Robert Shannon, Peter Takács, and Matti Raekallio, the international jury included Dag Achatz, Swedish soloist, recording artist, and composer; Uzbekistani-born American pianist Stanislav Ioudenitch, gold medalist of the 11th Van Cliburn Competition; Lisa Nakamichi, founding artistic director of the Aloha International Piano Festival; and Wu Ying, professor and department head at the Central Conservatory of Music in China.

Learn more at the Cooper International Competition website and Facebook page.

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 pianists George Li and Leonardo Colafelice, both of whom have cultivated outstanding young performance careers.

ABOUT OBERLIN AND THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA: The relationship between Oberlin College and The Cleveland Orchestra dates back nearly a century, beginning with the philanthropy of John Long Severance, an 1885 Oberlin graduate and flutist who founded the Musical Arts Association, under which The Cleveland Orchestra was established in 1918. The Cleveland Orchestra first performed in Oberlin in 1919, six months after its founding. The orchestra has returned to Oberlin each season since, giving more than 200 performances on campus to date. The Cleveland Orchestra has been a key part of the Cooper International Competition since its inception in 2010.

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