by Daniel Hathaway
The prize money for the three top winners in the Oberlin Cooper Competition is impressive, but the opportunity for teenaged pianists to play full concertos with The Cleveland Orchestra has to be, as the credit card commercial put it, priceless. They had that opportunity during the Final Round of the competition on Friday evening, July 27, in Severance Hall, in front of a live audience, radio and Internet listeners over WCLV and a panel of distinguished judges.
During a grueling week’s worth of semifinal, concerto and recital rounds at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the original draw of competitors had been gradually winnowed down from thirty-three to sixteen, then to ten, to six and to three. Earlier in the week, it seemed statistically possible that the final round might include three performances of Rachmaninov’s second concerto, but that didn’t happen. The final three, 17-year-old Micah McLaurin (right) from Charleston, S.C., 15-year-old Xiaoyu Liu (left) from Montréal, and 16-year-old Leonardo Colafelice (center) from Bari, Italy, would play one Chopin and two different Rachmaninov’s for the panel of judges to determine the ranking of their prizes.