Spring Performances Feature 2016-17 Concerto Competition Winners

December 13, 2016

Cathy Partlow Strauss

2016-17 Concerto Competition Winners
Photo credit: (Photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones '97)

Oberlin’s annual Concerto Competition is open to conservatory students in their final year of study. Each October, students compete for the opportunity to present a full concerto with orchestra and serve as the featured soloist on the program. Only four exceptional students are awarded this significant honor. These capstone moments are presented for large audiences in 1,200-seat Finney Chapel.

Initial rounds of the competition are adjudicated at the department level, and an outside jury of exemplary concert artists and presenters are brought to Oberlin for the public final round. This neutral panel eliminates any perception of bias and gives these blossoming artists more exposure to the professional world they will soon enter. The 2016-17 jury included percussionist Paul Yancich, pianist Ursula Oppens, concert presenter John Gerlach, violinist Kevork Mardirossian, and operatic soprano Maria Spacagna.

The accomplished students who earned the four performance spots—violinist Christa Cole, soprano Amber Monroe, cellist Aaron Wolff, and pianist Shiyu Yang—have distinguished themselves throughout their undergraduate years. 

Christa Cole of Boise, Idaho, is a student of violin professor David Bowlin. She discovered Shulamit Ran’s Violin Concerto during her junior year. “I played a solo piece of hers on my recital last semester and fell in love with her music,” Cole says. “I am thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to share a beautiful piece of music by a living woman composer.” Cole’s appearance with the Oberlin Orchestra is on February 25.

Shiyu Yang of Shanghai has loved Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 ever since he enrolled at Oberlin to study with piano faculty Alvin Chow and Angela Cheng. “Chopin is my favorite composer for the piano, and for me, this concerto is the most beautiful!” he says. “It would have been a pity not to play this piece during my college years.” He will perform the concerto with the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra on April 8.

It was serendipity that led Youngstown, Ohio soprano Amber Monroe to Ricky Ian Gordon’s and flowers pick themselves. A student of voice professor Timothy LeFebvre, Monroe was working on another piece with Oberlin orchestras director Raphael Jiménez when the conductor recommended that she listen to Gordon’s song cycle set to poetry by e. e. cummings. “Little did I know at the time that Professor Jiménez premiered it in 2005,” Monroe says. “I find each poem relatable to myself personally, but I was immediately drawn in by the first lyrics of the cycle: ‘i thank You God for most this amazing day.’” Monroe will perform the five-song set with the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra on May 2.

Aaron Wolff, from Newton, Massachusetts, is a fifth-year double-degree student in cello performance and comparative literature. A student of Associate Professor Darrett Adkins, Wolff feels “humbled and a little overwhelmed at the prospect of performing Prokofiev's Sinfonia concertante come May, but I’m absolutely overjoyed to get to do so with my peers of the Oberlin Orchestra.” He will perform Prokofiev’s monumental work on May 3.

Oberlin’s orchestral performances are free and open to the public. Each concert begins at 8 p.m. and is live-streamed at oberlin.edu.

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