Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

Nobody has forced me or suggested me to become a musician. My parents had many recordings as they were classical music lover. So I often listened to classical music since when I was a child and I liked it very much. That’s how I started to become close to and to love classical music.

Who or what have been the greatest influences on your musical life and career?

I would say meeting with many great musicians have been the most important influences on my musical life, people like Myung-Whun Chung, Radu Lupu, Krystian Zimerman, Mikhail Pletnev, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia and many others…..I learned a lot even while having a conversation with them.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Maybe participating some competitions….. I wanted to play for audiences across the world and I thought winning the competition was the easiest way to reach that goal. And it was true, the Chopin Competition gave me a lot of opportunities, but I’m still against competitions. Many great musicians like Arcadi Volodos or Piotr Anderszewski didn’t win any competitions.  The competition kills the musical idea, imagination and freedom. I felt so free after I won the Chopin competition because I realized that I don’t have to do this kind of thing anymore.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Brahms Quartet in g minor from the Rubinstein competition in 2014. It was the only performance which I enjoyed during that competition.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have no idea…

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

These days I simply play the pieces that I want to play. A few years ago, I wanted to show or express many sides of my musicality. But not anymore. I always feel comfortable when I play the music I love.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

So many places where they have a good piano, good acoustic and good audience. Like Carnegie hall in New York, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin’s Philharmonie, KKL in Luzern, Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Suntory hall in Tokyo…..

Who are your favourite musicians?

Radu Lupu, Krystian Zimerman, Mikhail Pletnev, Alfred Cortot, Edwin Fischer, Arcadi Volodos, Grigory Sokolov, Carlos Kleiber, Myung Whun Chung any many others

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut recital in Korea in 2005 when I was 11. After the performance, I realized that I really loved sharing my music with the audience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Actually I still don’t know what being successful as a musician is and I don’t want to think about it. My goal is play better than yesterday and to be satisfied with my performance more often. I’m rarely happy with my performance…

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

Don’t expect the compensation after you decide to become a pianist or musician

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I love to be in a place where there no noise. I love silence. And having good food and drink with my family or friends.

 

Seong-Jin Cho’s new recording of Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, Piano Sonatas K. 281, k.332 (Deutsche Grammophon, CD 0289 483 5522 8) is available now
Seong-Jin Cho was brought to the world’s attention in 2015 when he won the First Prize at the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw. This same competition launched the careers of world-class artists such as ‎Martha Argerich, ‎Maurizio Pollini, or ‎Krystian Zimerman.

In January 2016, Seong-Jin signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. The first recording was released in November 2016 featuring Chopin’s First Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda and the Four Ballades. A solo Debussy recording was then released in November 2017. Both albums won impressive critical acclaim worldwide. In 2018 he will record a Mozart program with sonatas and the D minor concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Yannick-Nézet-Seguin.

An active recitalist, he performs in many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. In the 2018/19 season, he will return to the main stage of Carnegie Hall as part of the Keyboard Virtuoso series where he had sold out in 2017. He will also return to Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in the Master Pianists series and will play recitals at the Berlin Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal (Berliner Philharmonic concert series), Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Hall (Los Angeles Philharmonic recital series), Zurich’s Tonhalle-Maag, Stockholm’s Konserthuset, Munich’s Prinzregententheater, Chicago’s Mandel Hall, Lyon’s Auditorium, La Roque d’Anthéron Festival, Verbier Festival, Gstaad Menuhin Festival, Rheingau Festival among several other venues.

During the next two seasons, he will play with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, at the Barbican Centre, Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and Myung-Whun Chung at the Paris Philharmonie, Gewandhaus Orchestra with Antonio Pappano, Hong Kong Philharmonic with Jaap van Zweden, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Manfred Honeck, Finnish Radio Orchestra and Hannu Lintu, Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick-Nézet-Seguin, Orchestra della Scala with Myung-Whun Chung. He will also tour with the European Union Youth Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda in venues like Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Royal Albert Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Robin Ticciati in Germany, the WDR Sinfonieorchester and Marek Janowski in Germany and Japan, and with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Antonio Pappano in Asia.

He collaborates with conductors at the highest level such as Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yuri Temirkanov, Krzysztof Urbanski, Fabien Gabel, Marek Janowski, Vasily Petrenko, Jakub Hrusa, Leonard Slatkin or Mikhail Pletnev.

In November 2017, Seong-Jin stepped in for Lang Lang with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for concerts in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hong-Kong and Seoul. Other major orchestral appearances include the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Mariinsky Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, RAI Symphony Orchestra, Hessischer Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester.

Born in 1994 in Seoul, Seong-Jin Cho started learning the piano at 6 and gave his first public recital at age 11. In 2009, he became the youngest-ever winner of Japan’s Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. In 2011, he won Third prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the age of 17. In 2012, he moved to Paris to study with Michel Béroff at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique where he graduated in 2015. He is now based in Berlin.

seongjin-cho.com

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I missed Krystian Zimerman’s London concert last April when he stood in for the indisposed Mitsuko Uchida and gave what was by all accounts a remarkable performance of Schubert’s last two sonatas, works written in the dying embers of the young composer’s life yet imbued with nostalgia, warmth, an intoxicating bitter-sweetness and, ultimately, hope.

It’s rare for Zimerman to come to London; even rarer for him to release a new disc. He feels that high-quality digital recordings have created a homogeneous sound and style, robbing art music of spontaneity and leading audiences to expect perfection on disc and in concert (something I largely concur with, based on my regular concert-going). Thus, he’s very particular about what and when he records. This is his first recording of Schubert’s last two sonatas and his first solo album for a quarter of a century – and my goodness it was worth the wait! The recording was made in Japan using a Steinway with Zimerman’s own keyboard (which, incidentally, he made himself) inserted into the instrument (like the great pianists of the past, such as his mentor Arthur Rubinstein, he travels on the condition that his own instruments and/or separate, particularly-voiced keyboards accompany him, to suit the repertoire he is performing). The result is impressive, the bespoke action producing a sweetly singing tone and wonderful clarity. In the liner notes (which take the form of an interview) Zimerman explains that the special piano action “is designed to create qualities Schubert would have known in his instruments. Compared to a modern grand piano, the hammer strikes a different point of the string, enhancing the ability to sustain a singing sound…..

But of course it’s not just the bespoke action which makes Zimerman’s sound so special. No, there is more, much more to this performance. Overall, there is an immaculate sense of pacing, so sensitive and natural; the first movement of the final sonata, for example, unfolds like a great river plotting its final course, the hymn-like first subject theme imbued with joyful purpose which gives the music forward propulsion without ever sounding hurried (it’s a leisurely mässig). In the first movement of the D959, the grandeur of the opening sentence gives way to the wistfulness and intimacy of an impromptu  – and immediately Zimerman’s sense of phrasing is revelatory, shedding light on details hitherto skimmed over by others and demonstrating a complete understanding of Schubert’s architecture and narrative, both within movements and the works as a whole.

Throughout, there is subtle rubato in his contouring of phrases, thoughtful use of agogic accents to highlight intervallic relationships or strikingly piquant harmonies (so much a feature of Schubert’s late music), a Mozartian clarity in the passage work and repeated chords (for example in the development sections of both first movements) and an understanding of Schubert’s very specific rests and fermatas – attention to tiny details which create remarkable breathing spaces and enhance the structural expansiveness and improvisatory character and modernity of this music. Restrained use of the sustain pedal creates transparent textures, most notably in the slow movements: the Andantino of the D959, too often the subject of musical “psychobabble” and emotional wallowing, has a desolate gracefulness in its outer sections which contrast perfectly with the hysteria of the central “storm”. When they come, the Scherzi (both marked Allegro vivace) are light and ebullient, though Zimerman is always aware that Schubert is often more tragic when writing in the major key. In sum, every bar is carefully considered and insightful, yet at no point does this music sound fussy, overly precious or reverential. This is some of the most natural Schubert playing I have encountered and it suggests an artist with a long association with and deep affection for this music

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have spent the last three years studying and learning Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata, D959. It has become something of an obsession for me, initially forming the bulk of my programme for a Fellowship Performance Diploma and now a piece of music I simply can’t let go of. I have heard many recordings of the sonata from Schnabel and Cherkassy to Andsnes, Leonskaja and Barnatan, in addition to five live performances (including by Piers Lane, Andras Schiff, Richard Goode and mostly recently Paul Berkowitz). When one spends so much time with a single piece of music, one can grow fussy, pedantically so, about how this music is presented in concert and/or on disc – so much so that I have stopped seeking out the work in concert because I listen far too attentively and critically for my own good…..and talking of “Goode”, the one and only live performance I really enjoyed, the one which left me with the feeling that this was how Schubert would have wanted his music performed, was by the American pianist Richard Goode at the Royal Festival Hall in May 2016 (of which more here). In Krystian Zimerman I have found my new benchmark, not just for the D959 but as a demonstration of how Schubert’s piano music should be played.

Very highly recommended

Such is the spell of your emotional world that it very nearly blinds us to the greatness of your craftsmanship

– Franz Liszt on Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert/Krystian Zimerman/Piano Sonatas D 959 and D 960

Deutsche Grammophon

00028947975885