Seong-Jin Cho’s newest album- Debussy (Photo credit: Deutsche Grammophon)
New Classical Tracks: Seong-Jin Cho brings Debussy to life in new album
By Julie Amacher
Classical MPR, Classical Music Features
March 21, 2018
Before winning the gold medal at the International Chopin Competition in 2015, South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho performed 20 or 30 concerts a year. Since winning that prestigious award, he’s tripled the amount of concerts on his schedule, including several which found him filling in for the piano superstar, Lang Lang, who’s been nursing an injured hand.
After releasing two Chopin recordings, Seong-Jin Cho has turned to the music of Debussy on his latest release.
You spent some time studying in Paris with Michel Beroff at the Paris Conservatory. Debussy is one of his specialties, so I’m curious what you may have learned from him as you were exploring this music?
“I always am curious about pedal. Many musicians put a lot of pedal when they play Debussy’s music. Like very so-called impressionistic style. But Michel does not agree to put too much pedal and he showed me some article, a historical statement from Debussy, which showed that Debussy didn’t like to put too much pedal when some people play his music.
“And, also living in Paris helped me to interpret the music by Debussy because there are a lot of museums and a lot of paintings in Paris which inspired Debussy. So, unconsciously it helped me to interpret and it became very natural for me, the French music.”
You have the Images 1 and 2 featured on this release and each of these little movements is kind of like a masterpiece in and of itself. Tell me a little bit about Images 1.
“Personally I found Images is one of the most difficult piano piece written by Debussy. Technically and musically, both are really demanding, and I found it’s very poetic and there is a lot of color and sometimes it’s abstract some kind of title like ‘Homages a Rameau,’ it’s like a longer version of prelude for me. It’s very difficult to interpret.
“His imagination is limitless. We have to produce a variety of sound and color because Debussy, of course he is romantic, but at the same time he was rational. He knew what he wants. I think we have to make a good balance between very poetic and careful and sometimes romantic and also very academic at the same time.”
Children’s Corner Suite is a work that you’ve known since you were 11-years old. What are your impressions of this work now that you’ve had a chance to live with it for a while?
“Technically it’s not that difficult, but to get the feeling of the music is quite demanding. For instance, like the fourth piece is really difficult for me, ‘The Snow is Dancing.’ We really need to make the sounds like snow. It is a very delicate piece so we have to control the piano so well.”
The Suite Bergamasque includes the very familiar ‘Claire de Lune’ and your interpretation of it, the tempo is taken more slowly than some interpreters. Why do you choose to do that?
“Actually, I listened again after I played it and my producer said, ‘Oh, you play a little bit slower than the others,’ and then I still felt this is the right tempo for me. Perhaps I will play differently in ten years, but for now I think this is the right tempo.”
A Chopin specialist brings the music of Debussy to life. To learn more about Seong-Jin Cho, download the extended podcast.
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
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