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MIC Students Dominate International Cooper Competition

Photo Credit:  Roger Mastroianni 


The Music Institute of Chicago, one of the nation’s leading community schools, and its Academy Program, a top training center for advanced pre-conservatory students, dominated the prestigious 2015 Thomas & Evon Cooper International Competition for Violin. After a rigorous audition process, the competition chose nine of the 21 international competitors from the Music Institute—an unprecedented number from one institution—with two placing at the top of the competition, which was presented by the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Cleveland Orchestra in late July in Oberlin, Ohio.


Music Institute Academy student Gallia Kastner (18, Arlington Heights, Illinois) earned First Prize of $10,000, tying with Belle Ting (15, Taiwan, also a $10,000 winner). Academy student Joshua Brown (15, Gurnee, Illinois) took second place, winning $6,000, and the Audience Award ($500). All three performed full concertos with the Cleveland Orchestra at Cleveland’s venerable Severance Hall and received full four-year scholarship offers to attend the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, each worth more than $200,000. Kastner, who began studying at the Music Institute in 2006, will attend the distinguished Colburn School in Los Angeles this fall studying violin performance with Robert Lipsett.


Music Institute participants, in addition to Kastner and Brown, included Academy students Zachary Brandon (16, Battle Creek, Michigan), Nicholas Brown (18, Gurnee, Illinois and brother of Joshua Brown), Maya Buchanan (sixth place winner of $1,000, Top 6 Recital Finalist, 15, Rapid City, South Dakota), Karisa Chiu (fourth place winner of $1,000, Top 6 Recital Finalist, 16, Palatine, Illinois), Ria Honda (Top 10 Finalist, 15, Wilmette, Illinois), and Hannah White (15, Germantown, Wisconsin) and Community School student Julian Rhee (14, Brookfield, Wisconsin). Advancing to the semi-finals with Brown and Kastner were Buchanan, Chiu, and Honda.


The Music Institute Academy students study with the renowned Almita and Roland Vamos, who have taught at the Music Institute for more than 25 years. White and Brandon also study with Music Institute faculty member Hye-Sun Lee. Rhee studies with Lee.


“Despite each of our students hoping to win first prize, they could not have been more supportive of each other,” said Jim Setapen, director of the Academy. “We try to instill in each of our students the desire to be good colleagues, to be supportive and helpful to each other. In the end, the building of character through such experiences will teach them a much more important lesson than winning a prize.”


Critics had high praise for the Music Institute competitors. “The D major concerto by Brahms is, of course, an Everest in the violin literature,” wrote Mark Satola in The Plain Dealer. “Kastner proved to be more than a match for the score, triumphing over every challenge, both technical and artistic, and delivering a performance that was nothing less than spellbinding in all three movements.”


“Had he played from behind a curtain, you wouldn’t have believed that Joshua Brown…was only 15,” wrote Daniel Hathaway for clevelandclassical.com. “His interpretation of Dmitri Shostakovich’s first violin concerto was so maturely wrought that it might have come from a seasoned professional. Brilliantly played and expertly paced… Brown was spellbinding throughout his entire time on stage.”


Founded in 2006, the Music Institute of Chicago Academy, which operates on the premises of the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, has established itself as the premier training center for highly gifted pre-conservatory musicians in this country. The selective program focuses on providing a comprehensive musical education that includes private lessons with artist faculty, a rigorous chamber music component, chamber orchestra, and accelerated music theory classes. Pianists study keyboard history and literature, improvisation, and keyboard skills in an intimate group setting. Hallmarks of the Academy include regular master classes with some of the world’s most renowned artists and educators and unparalleled performance opportunities. In addition to providing a comprehensive music education, the Academy’s mission is to offer fellowship with like-minded students in a supportive community. The carefully assembled faculty includes internationally recognized teachers and performers with a passion for developing young talent and an established track record of student achievement.


Past Academy students who have won prizes at the Cooper Competition include Kastner’s fourth place win in 2014; Ali Switala (second), Laura Park (third), and Kelly Talim (sixth) in 2011; and Kate Liu (third) in the Cooper piano competition in 2010. For a comprehensive list of Academy competition accomplishments, click here >>


See all 2014-2015 Competition News >>

Music Institute of Chicago

The Music Institute of Chicago is dedicated to transforming lives through music education. Founded in 1931, the Music Institute has grown to become one of the largest and most respected community music schools in the nation. Offering musical excellence built on the strength of its distinguished faculty, commitment to quality, and breadth of programs and services, the Music Institute is a member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education and accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Pre-collegiate Arts Schools (ACCPAS). Each year, the Music Institute’s teachers and arts therapists reach thousands of students and clients of all ages and levels of experience. Music Institute locations include Chicago, Evanston, Winnetka, Lincolnshire, Lake Forest, and Downers Grove. In addition, the Music Institute is proud of its longstanding partnership with the Chicago Public Schools through its Arts Link program. The Music Institute offers lessons and classes, and concerts through its Community School, Academy, and Nichols Concert Hall.

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