A few hours ahead of Sunday evening’s concert at the Seoul Arts Center, Simon Rattle, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, was relaxed and effusive in his praise of pianist Cho Seong-jin, who would be performing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, M.83 with the orchestra.
“This is a time when the planet is full of extraordinary young pianists. It is not rare. But what is rare is a poet on the keyboard,” said Rattle, adding, “But he is seated to my right,” as he looked at Cho.
Last month, it was announced that Cho, the winner of the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition, would be stepping in for Lang Lang for the Hong Kong and Seoul leg of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s Asia tour as well as the Berlin and Frankfurt concerts that would kick off the tour. Lang Lang withdrew from the schedule due to an injury to his left arm.
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Simon Rattle (center) speaks as pianist Cho Seong-jin (left) and composer Chin Un-suk listen during a press conference held Sunday at the JW Marriott in Seoul. Kumho Asiana Cultural Foundation
“It has been a great honor to step in for Lang Lang,” said Cho. “I am sorry that tonight’s concert is my last performance in Sir Simon Rattle’s last tour with the Berlin Philharmonic. It was a great honor to tour with Sir Simon Rattle and I learned a lot.”
While Cho said he has found Rattle’s comment to him very helpful, he declined to reveal what it was, explaining that he would like to keep it private “as it was very precious.”
Remarking on pianist Krystian Zimerman’s recommendation of Cho, Rattle recalled how his longtime friend, known for being very critical of all pianists, including himself, had said Cho is a really great pianist. “He said I should hear him. I didn’t know how quickly I would hear him,” Rattle said.
“Zimerman appreciates stillness, tranquility and introspective music,” said Rattle, observing that he could see how the renowned Polish pianist could have a brotherly feeling for Cho that transcends generations.
While Sunday’s program was to include pieces that have been in the orchestra’s repertoire since its early days in the 19th century -- Richard Strauss’ “Don Juan,” Tone Poem for Orchestra, Op. 20 and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 -- the programming for Monday includes Sergei Rachmaninoff’s rarely performed Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44 and Igor Stravinsky’s “Petrushska,” along with the Korean premiere of composer Chin Un-suk’s “Choros Chordon” commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Foundation.
One of the short pieces the orchestra commissioned over the past two seasons from a wide range of composers from around the world, “Choros Chordon” wrestles with the beginning and the end of the cosmos. “It is the first time she has written a short piece for us. What she’s done is a beautiful piece with color. All the difficulties she would put into 30-minute pieces are all there,” said Rattle. “It is a challenge but a beautiful challenge.”
Chin has been preparing the Korean audience for the challenge of appreciating the 10-minute piece dedicated to Rattle, describing it as a difficult piece to understand in recent interviews. At Sunday’s press conference, she said, “The premiere in Berlin could not have been better. The orchestra did an amazing interpretation. I have high expectations for Tuesday.”
Cho’s meteoritic rise in the world of classical music was not lost on the reporters or the pianist himself. Reminded of how he has fulfilled his two dreams -- performing with the Berlin Philharmonic which he did for the first time on Nov. 4, and holding a recital at the Carnegie Hall, which took place earlier this year -- at a relatively young age, Cho said that he also has dreams as a person and as a musician.
“My dreams as a pianist have been realized rather quickly. My dream as a pianist is to be reinvited,” said Cho. “My dream as a musician is a tomorrow that is better than today. My dream as a person is to be happy.”
By Kim Hoo-ran (firstname.lastname@example.org