Meet Ima Hogg Competition Semi-finalist Charles Seo! This talented 20-year-old cellist is currently a sophomore at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where he studies with Professor Ronald Leonard. We recently got a chance to ask Sam a few questions about himself and his musical life.
Houston Symphony: Where did you grow up and how did that community affect whom you have become?
Charles Seo: I grew up in Houston ever since I was in the fourth grade. The music community in Houston was pretty far advanced from what I remember. I joined the Houston Youth Symphony, and started entering local competitions at a young age. Because of the supportive environment, I was able to mature into not only a musician, but as a good human being.
HS: Are there other musical people in your family? What have you learned from them? If you are the only musical person in your family, how have they encouraged your musical career?
CS: My mother majored in music composition and my father served in the Korean Military Band. When I was a baby, my mother placed me underneath the grand piano she played at church. Ever since I learned how to play the cello, our family became a trio that performed numerous amounts of times. My parents always reminded me to use my musical talents to glorify God’s name and to praise him. If I were the only musical person in the family.
HS: At what age did you begin playing your instrument and what memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances?
CS: When I was in the fourth grade, I began playing the cello. I remember winning the Houston Youth Symphony Concerto Competition with the Shostakovich Cello Concerto, and performing with the orchestra at Rice University. I think I will feel very nostalgic and old once I get on the same stage with the same piece that I performed many years ago.
HS: What has been the most exciting event for you in your musical career?
CS: A miracle happened to me recently. I applied to the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition even though I wasn’t completely ready. I made it into the preliminary round, and I was invited to compete In Moscow. When I arrived at the airport in Moscow, an interviewer and a cameraman Immediately followed me and I’ve never felt so excited in my life. I’ve only watched the competition through live stream, and being at the Moscow Conservatory was a sensational experience. I will work harder and hopefully go back alter three more years.
HS: Do you have any pre-performance habits or rituals?
CS: I like to drink hot cocoa before I go on stage. It seems to help me calm down and restore energy. I’ve tried everything from bananas to eating nothing at all, but a little bit of sugar seems to help me. Also, I always pray that he will be with me right before I perform.
HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have had on you?
CS: My mentor, Brinton Smith, loves to try new things, and push everything to the limit. He got me to experiment and play with violin pieces and challenged me to learn difficult repertoire. Without him, I would have never gotten the chance to learn pieces like that, and I would’ve never had the mindset of trying new, revolutionary things on the cello.
HS: Who is the most famous person you have met or worked with?
CS: I have met many famous cellists and artists. I will be meeting more in May at the Piatigorisky International Music Festival. There will be many world-renowned cellists there such as Yo-Yo-Ma, Mischa Maisky, Truls Mork, Frans Helmerson, David Geringas and many more. I will be participating in masterclasses and cello ensembles at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I am thrilled to be given such an opportunity.
HS: What are the “top five” pieces or songs on your playlist or iPod?
CS: 1. “Close Your Eyes by Stacey Kent.
2. “In Your Own Sweet Way” by Wes Montgomery.
3. “Panic Station” by MUSE.
4. “Chant du Menestrel” by Mischa Maisky.
5. “Liszt’s Liebestraum No.3 Op.62 S541” by Arthur Rubinstein.
HS: Do you have a favorite TV show?
CS: House of Cards.
HS: Do you have a favorite sports team?
CS: The Rockets.
HS: What kind of food do you like?
CS: Anything spicy!
HS: Do you have a favorite city or travel destination?
CS: Salar de Uyuni.
HS: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music?
CS: I love bowling, traveling, and snowboarding.
See Charles Seo perform for FREE at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music on Thursday, June 2. And don’t forget to get tickets to the Finals Concert!