LG Arts Center Seoul opens new chapter with classical music concert

Korean pianist Cho Seong-jin performs together with the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle on Oct. 13 to officially open the new LG Arts Center Seoul in Magok, western Seoul. [KIM YOON-HEE, LG ARTS CENTER]

The LG Arts Center Seoul opened a new chapter at its new location in Magok, western Seoul, with a concert on Thursday evening. Sir Simon Rattle took to the podium, the London Symphony Orchestra was on stage and Korea’s beloved star pianist Cho Seong-jin was on the piano to show off the newest acoustics of the venue’s 1,335-seat LG Signature Hall.

The maestro and the orchestra opened up the concert with Wilhelm Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde – Prelude & Liebestod.” Then Cho joined them to perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43.”

Rachmaninoff’s piece was no doubt a great pick to show Cho’s dazzling technique and emotions. The piece is considered as one of the Russian composer and pianist’s greatest works. It consists of 24 variations based on Nicolo Paganini’s Caprices No. 24 for solo violin. Showcasing such diverse variations in one stretch without breaks can be very challenging for the performer, but it offers a breathtaking show for the audience.

During Thursday’s performance, Cho bounced up and down the seat in the passages that required him to intensely strike the keys. His sleek black hair which seemed longer than his usual look, was flying up and down. He looked so immersed in his performance that it appeared as though he was possessed in some moments — perhaps an emotional state due to performing a piece by Paganini, who was so extraordinary that people began to believe the Italian violinist and composer had made a pact with the devil. The slower sections were a reminder of what a beautifully refined sound Cho can produce.

The London Symphony Orchestra and maestro Sir Simon Rattle stand up for a bow after their performance on Thursday at the LG Arts Center Seoul's LG Signature Hall. [KIM YOON-HEE, LG ARTS CENTER]

Cho seemed bolder in showcasing rhythmic freedom. It must have been the trust he has with Sir Rattle on the podium. Rattle knew exactly what Cho was doing, and led the orchestra accordingly. The maestro and Cho constantly made affectionate eye contact that made many of Cho’s fans watch in envy.

Ever since becoming the first Korean to win first prize at the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 2015, Cho has built up a huge fandom in Korea. He’s been dubbed an idol star of K-classical music due to his large following.

However, despite Cho’s articulate performance, the piano did not sound deep enough, perhaps due to the short reverberation time. Since the hall isn’t built exclusively for classical music, the acoustics can't be compared to venues like the Royal Albert in London or La Scala in Milan. In that sense, the London Symphony under Sir Rattle’s baton and Cho on the piano was the perfect decision made by the LG Arts Center to showcase the best sound it possibly could inside the LG Signature Hall. The venue was created to serve as a multipurpose hall that can stage not only a classical music concert but also dance and pop concerts and even magic shows.

LG Art Center Seoul in Magok, western Seoul, was designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. [BAE JIN-HUN, LG ARTS CENTER]

The two other pieces by the London Symphony Orchestra after the intermission — Johan Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105” and Maurice Ravel’s “La Valse – Poeme Choregraphique Pour Orchestre, M. 72” — were no doubt world-class. But the true qualities of the London Symphony could be witnessed during the encore when it performed the finale of “The Firebird” by Stravinsky. The piece was perfect to show all the strengths the orchestra has, especially its ability to freely control different dynamics. The audience expressed its emotion with a standing ovation.

The new LG Arts Center Seoul is designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. For the acoustics, the venue collaborated with Theatre Projects consultants based in England, who also took part in the creation of the LA Disney Concert Hall, the Opera House in Oslo and the Esplanade Concert Hall in Singapore.

The LG Arts Center Seoul will continue its Opening Festival until Until Dec. 18. Ten more performances will be staged, including two more are classical music concerts.

From Oct. 19 to 22, singer Lena Park, also known as Park Jung-hyun, will be holding concerts. On Oct. 28 to 30, alternative cross-genre pop band Leenalchi, will perform its new piece. A magic show by Korean magician Lee Eun-gyeol will be also performed inside the hall and a pansori (traditional Korean narrative singing) performance will take place by Lee Jaram.

For more information about the upcoming performances at the LG Arts Center Seoul, visit