Yamazaki wins Cooper finals with Rachmaninoff’s No. 2


<p style="text-align: right;">Courtesy photo Ryota Yamazaki is the winner of the 2016 Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition.

Courtesy photo Ryota Yamazaki is the winner of the 2016 Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition.


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

Fourteen-year-old Nathan Lee of Sammamish, Wash., opened with the second Rachmaninoff concerto, for which he earned third place.

Evren Ozel, 17, of Minneapolis, Minn., earned second place 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 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 finals marked the end of seven days of Cooper performances, including an honors recital in Oberlin. 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 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 more than $40,000, including $1,500 each for 15-year-old Chaewon Kim of Suwon City, South Korea; 16-year-old Andrew Li of Lexington, Mass.; and 17-year-old Clayton Stephenson of New York, N.Y.

They finished fourth through sixth, respectively, July 20 at the Recital Finals in Oberlin. That evening, Lee won the audience prize of $500.

For the first time, the 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 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 Takacs, 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.

Courtesy photo Ryota Yamazaki is the winner of the 2016 Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition.

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Courtesy photo Ryota Yamazaki is the winner of the 2016 Thomas and Evon Cooper International Competition.