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Winning International Chopin Piano Competition, Seong-Jin Cho knew his future was set / Washington Post

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Nothing captures the ambivalence many musicians feel toward piano competitions - those high-stakes Olympics of the musical world - better than the reaction of the rising South Korean star Seong-Jin Cho, to winning the legendary International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015. "I was really happy, because I wouldn't have to play in any more competitions," Cho recalls.

Cho, then 21, had endured three nerve-racking weeks of competition in Warsaw. He won over the 17-member jury with his rare combination of technical bravura, artistic maturity and freshness of insight across the range of Chopin's piano writing. "Cho was remarkable," said Garrick Ohlsson, the 1970 Chopin competition gold medalist who served on the 2015 jury, speaking by telephone from North Carolina last month. "He was such a complete young artist."

With his gold medal, Cho knew his immediate future was set - or as set as any young classical musician's can be. He was propelled to overnight celebrity in his home country, and he secured major concert dates and a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. He could leave behind the pressure-filled, circuslike and often political world of piano competitions. The prestige of the Chopin competition will precede Cho, now 23, everywhere he goes in the coming years. In a telephone interview from Berlin, where he was recording a new Debussy album last month, Cho spoke pragmatically about why a major competition win helped his career.

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