Seong-Jin Cho on Chopin

Photo courtesy of Christoph Köstlin / Deutsche Grammophon.

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In 2015, Seong-Jin Cho became the first South Korean pianist to win first prize in the International Chopin Competition. Since then, he has performed around the world and recorded six albums for Deutsche Grammophon, including his latest release of Chopin's scherzi and the F minor piano concerto. WHRB's Andrew Courtney sat down with Cho to talk about his new album, which along with the full interview airs on the weekly New Releases program on Wednesday, October 13th, from 8-10 PM.

These are some highlights of the interview, edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full audio via the player above.

Andrew Courtney: I want to ask about the newest album. Looking at your catalogue, the first album that you recorded was the four ballades and the first concerto by Chopin. Now, you’ve done the four scherzi and the second concerto. Do you look at these as companion albums?

Seong-Jin Cho: Actually I just wanted to complete the concerto cycle. I wanted to record with the same orchestra and same conductor. The last scherzos are very substantial works written by Chopin. I also often play the four scherzi together as a cycle in concerts. They seem to feel very comfortable all in one place.

I want to ask you a little bit about the idea of playing the four scherzi as a set. What do you think is a quality about those pieces that makes them so great to be performed all four together?

They’re all different and they’re all dramatic. I think dramatic is the key word to explain these scherzos. The structure is very clear – ABA structure and the B section is very poetic while the A section is more dramatic. Actually, the scherzo was considered a short and light movement before Chopin, like a symphony’s third movement. Chopin transformed it into a great art, and that’s a very special thing about this piece.

I want to touch on the concerto you recorded as well. How was your experience working with the same orchestra and same conductor a couple years after you recorded the first concerto?

It was five years ago that I recorded the first concerto with Noseda and the London Symphony Orchestra. Since then, I have played so many concerts with Maestro Noseda and I’ve also played a few concerts with the London Symphony. For me, I felt more comfortable when I recorded this concerto, compared to five years ago. I already know some people from the orchestra and I know Maestro Noseda better. The process was very smooth this time.

Between the first and the second concerto, do you have a favorite?

I like the first and the second movement of the F minor concerto, and I prefer the last movement of the E minor concerto.

On behalf of our listeners here in Boston – you’ve played here before, to great acclaim. When would you be interested in coming back?

I’ll be returning in one and a half years. I really like the city and really enjoyed my time in Boston. Especially, it was one of my last concerts before the pandemic, so it was very memorable.

Andrew Courtney is a producer for the Classical Music Department and the host of a feature on the Pierrot ensemble on Tuesdays from 7-8 PM.