Johan Dalene’s final round performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Concerto in D Major” erased any doubt of who would win the 2017 Cooper International Competition.
The audience roared its approval Friday as the 16-year-old violinist, hailing from Norrkoping, Sweden, impressed judges at Severance Hall in Cleveland.
“I saw the best Tchaikovsky Concerto that I’ve ever heard,” said Gregory Fulkerson, longtime director of the 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.”
Dalene was awarded the top prize of $20,000 and left the competition’s two other finalists battling 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 City shared second prize, taking home $7,500 each. No third prize was awarded.
All three finalists will also be offered full-tuition scholarships to attend the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
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 competition that began with five days of performances in Oberlin.
He earned the audience prize of $500 at last Wednesday’s recital finals and clearly won over Friday’s crowd as well. As the audience’s applause continued, Cleveland Orchestra 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 open to highly accomplished young musicians across international borders.
It is made possible by a gift from 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.