Tony Yun was four years old when he began playing piano, practicing five minutes per day.
Today, the Toronto-based musician spends six hours each day at the keys and is one of the 31 young pianists from around the world competing in this year’s Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition.
Yun has performed as a soloist in Shanghai, Beijing, Spain, Ukraine, Germany, and Paris and studies at the Julliard School in New York City — but he says he’d never call himself a prodigy.
“People use the word prodigy a lot these days,” he said, shaking his head and laughing. “I’m just always trying to get better and better.”
Now in its ninth year, the Cooper Competition offers a grand prize of $20,000 in addition to second and third prizes of $10,000 and $5,000. The top three competitors also will be awarded full four-year scholarships to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
Cincinnati-based Kasey Shao has been watching live streams and broadcasts of the Cooper Competition from the time it began in 2010. This year, finally old enough to compete, she prepared to play works by five different pianists.
She began playing at age six and typically practices four hours on a regular school day. But in preparation for the competition in Oberlin, she’s been practicing for 10 hours per day.
As the winner of the children’s division at the Albert M. Greenfield Concerto Competition at the age of 12, the pianist performed a piece by Mozart with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her goal is to play alongside the Cleveland Orchestra.
While Yun finds being judged against other pianists to be nerve-wracking, Shao is more relaxed and believes competing is more about “sharing your love of music with the audience, no matter who is there.”
“It’s going back in time and being with the composer,” she said. “It’s kind of like reading a book but you’re playing the book instead. You’re taking a journey through the composer’s life.”
Concerto finals with the Cleveland Orchestra will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Severance Hall in Cleveland under the direction of Jahja Ling.
Tickets range from $13 to $30 and all students under age 18 will be admitted free with a paying adult. For more information, call 800-686-1141. The event will also be broadcast live on WCLV 104.9 FM.
As of our print publication date, Yun was among 10 pianists still in the competition. Six of the performers will advance to the recital finals Wednesday at the Warner Concert Hall in Oberlin.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.