‘Top-selling classical CD in a decade’

‘Top-selling classical CD in a decade’


norman lebrecht

December 07, 2015

Chopin winner Seong-Jin Cho has just been awarded his sixth platinum disc for Korean sales of his debut DG album. It’s the top-selling classic in Korea for a decade, say DG, outstripping Sumi Jo’s Missing You.

More than 40 percent of buyers from one e-tailer said they had never bought classical music before.

cho platinum


  • Milka says:

    Has nothing to do with music- it is all national pride – once the brou ha ha subsides ,just
    another prize winning thumper .

    • Alexander says:

      National pride may come into it, but this is not uncommon. At concerts in London I have seen Poles with Polish flags at a Krystian Zimerman concert and Maltese with Maltese flags at a Joseph Calleja concert. When I went to hear Li Yundi most of the audience were Chinese and they made all the usual announcements bilingually in English and Chinese. However, it’s clear that this chap is actually a very good pianist and not remotely a follower of the thumping school. Somebody recently posted videos of him and Lang Lang playing the Scherzo No.2, Op.31, and Seong-Jin Cho clearly has real talent and musicianship.

    • Tim Walton says:

      I heard Seong-Jin Cho at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall which was his UK Debut.

      He was tremendous and way better than a certain ‘Mr Klang, Klang’.

      And Milka, he certainly does not thump anything.

    • Marcato Sempre says:

      No need to be such an imperious sourpuss: The fact that so many virgin ears are hearing Chopin’s music for the first time, thanks to their interest in this young artist’s victory – How could this have nothing to do with music??? There is NO wrong way to discover music, and not everyone grows up in a privileged environment where they are exposed to music. So let’s celebrate the fact that this young Korean artist is creating new audiences for classical music, and stop being such an elitist snob.

      • Erwin Poelstra says:

        Well said. Classical music needs to find new audiences without the cross-over crap. Hearing Chopin played by Cho is not a bad choice at all.

      • Olassus says:

        Milka’s privileged environment:

        “According to the official website, the name is derived from combining Milch and Kakao, the German words for milk and cocoa.

        “However, Croatian sources claim it to be a tribute to Carl Russ-Suchard’s admiration of Richard Wagner interpretations by Milka Ternina (1863–1941), a famous soprano.

        “Suchard merged with Tobler to become Interfood. Interfood merged with the Jacobs coffee company in 1982 to become Jacobs Suchard. Kraft Foods acquired Jacobs Suchard, including Milka, in 1990 and made the purple packing a Europe-wide protected trademark. In October 2012, the global snacks business of Kraft, including the Milka brand, became Mondelēz International.”

    • patrick salbaing says:

      you are sorely mistaken… this guy has a tremendous career ahead of him and i doubt he will be sitting around waiting for his agent to call…

  • Freddy says:

    Sorry but I’ll stick with Cortot and Arrau for my Chopin…..

  • Alvaro says:


    What would’ve happened if the winner had been from Armenia or from pretty much anywhere else?

    One HAS to be suspicious about the results and the imparciality of the jury. Norman speaks volumes about every other competition out there as corrupt yet none of this raises any eyebrows?


  • someone says:

    Hello, Milka and Alvaro,

    I’m seeing you guys here again as always, whenever a posting about Seong-Jin Cho appears.

    Dear Milka,
    ” Has nothing to do with music- it is all national pride ” ?

    Oh, please, be more creative.
    You are repeating the same words again to accuse again Korean people of buying Seong-Jin’s CD as you did in the comments to the postings below.



    As I briefly explained in my previous comments, many Koreans, especially most Korean youngsters have been playing various musical instruments already.
    Among them, piano must be still the most popular one and the second is violin, I think.
    When they learn a musical instrument, especially when they are young, they mostly learn instruments and repertoire of classical music, however, it doesn’t mean they will automatically become classical music fans.

    There are some gaps between them, but playing an instrument could become a kind of foundation for being a classical music fan later on, but sometimes, people need something more special, like an inspiration.
    It seems that Seong-Jin has surely provided it and filled the gaps.

    Everyone has the first time for everything and not everybody is born to be a classical music fan.
    Seong-Jin has certainly drawn many Korean people’s attention to classical music.
    But it’s not only because he has won a famous competition.
    We’ve already got a long list of history of winning famous music competitions, including the winner of violin at the Queen Elizabeth Competition this year and Busoni Piano Competition, but not always the effects have been the same.

    Seong-Jin didn’t only raise CD sales.
    According to media reports, people who stopped playing the piano are resuming it again and piano sales are on the rise too.
    Is it because of national pride as well?

    What an expensive and annoying way to express national pride.
    To take piano lessons in Korea, one needs to pay at least 70 pounds a month.
    If one wants to express his or her national pride, I think it’s better to buy a flag and wave it outside concert halls rather than paying 70 pounds a month to play the piano again and practise an hour a day after a hard school day or workday.

    Dear Alvaro,
    Are you the same one who defended Lang Lang against the posting of “Lang Lang gets hammered in London” and said that all the UK critics criticised Lang’s performances because they were envious?

    And are you claiming that the 17th Chopin Competition jury was not fair?
    Then please write a complain letter to the Chopin Competition board and explain why you feel this way.

    There have been some incidents and scandals in the music competition history, including the Chopin Competition, but not this time.

    There have been arguments and preferences and maybe nationalism too, but no scandal.
    However, if you wanna raise a scandal of your own, please do write a formal letter to the board.
    I wonder how you will prove your judgement is fairer than jurors’.

    If you are the same one who defended Lang Lang under the posting below, it’ll be quite interesting that your attitude towards two different performers is quite extreme.


    Here I wrote comments how the maestros such as Krystian Zimerman, Valery Gergiev, Lorin Maazel, Mikhail Pletnev, Myung-Whun Chung, Kyung-Wha Chung, who heard and made music together with Seong-Jin thought about him.
    I’ve got more now and I’ll add to this later on as I don’t have much time at the moment.

    At first I wasn’t even thinking of writing those things, but as long as there is somebody raising suspicion on Seong-Jin’s musicianship, it’ll be interesting to look at what other professional musicians have been saying about him.
    But you are still totally free to make a judgement of your own.
    I don’t expect you to change, but I also have the freedom to share opinions of others.
    It’s a pleasure to find someone else who shares the same view on things.

    Alvaro and Milka,
    Whether you want to defend a musician whom you fancy or to condemn another, you should do with a more logical mind.

    I don’t think national identity or national pride is always a bad thing, but when it becomes a very damaging, it’ll be a different story.
    I wonder who has the damaging one here.

    • Ross says:

      These two great young stars (Lang Lang and Cho) don’t need you to defend them from a few anonymous nobodies on the internet.
      They both are doing quite well. Perhaps better than any other classical musician.
      Don’t waste your time again.

      • someone says:

        I’m not defending Cho, but I have my own say in the matters because I am one of them who have bought his CD not for national pride or national identity.

        I’ve been listening to classical music since I wasn’t born yet and I play music.
        I have a right to speak as you have it and this space is open to diverse opinions.

        An anonymous nobody on the internet should tell anyone to speak or not.
        Please don’t waste your time on worrying(?) about me wasting my time.

        • Milka says:

          National pride was only an observation–and poor Somone gallops off in all directions
          defending his/her hero .It is quite charming to note this naive hero devotion which only bolsters the original thought on national pride . It is wonderful to read that piano manufacturers have gotten into overdrive in supplying the vast populace with pianos and
          people are once again returning to the piano in droves . Just imagine waking up in the morning to the strains of the Polonaise drifting across the land ………!?

          • someone says:

            Hero devotion? That is what you insist.
            National pride? That is why you distort the fact and the truth.
            I mean YOUR national pride, in fact, a very damaging one.

            Waking up in the morning to the strains of the Polonaise or of a nocturne, That is not your business.
            At least we’ll enjoy music while you still suffer from your jealousy.

    • Alvaro says:

      This blog presents comments from ‘classical music lovers’ with an incredible cocktail of generalizations, straw man, red herrings, and a litany of other false arguments that one has to call this empirical evidence that listening to music in fact DOES NOT make you more intelligent, well versed, or in any way a more ‘cultured’ person.

      Now, if there was a study that linked classical music listening to arrogance, insularity, close mindness, and despotism….I wonder what the correlation would be…

      If you want to simplify my argument and my comments as “he likes lang lang and hates Cho” then you should 1) grow up and come back when you can actually read. or 2) read again and try to understand.

      I never put in question Cho’s musicianship (Straw man argument, look it up in google, you might learn something today). All I said is that while deciding the winner of the competition, it is an INCREDIBLE COINCIDENCE that the winner was from one of the 2-3 countries in the world that 1) still has CD stores, and whose population therefore 2) still buy classical CD’s.

      I say so because DG announced the production and release of the album of the winner BEFORE the competition took place.

      If you are a businessman, wouldnt you want to ensure that your investment is hedged against the risk of having a winner that wont “sell”? All of the finalists were phenomenal, and while I personally would’ve preferred for Hamelin to win, CHO is in no way an unfair winner.

      The thing with music competitions is that its impossible to have an objective measure to judge once a certain general benchmark its surpassed. To quote Gladwell in his bestseller book ‘outliers’: “In a room full of Harvard Law graduates lining waiting for a job interview in a major Law Firm, being a marginally better lawyer than the person next to you is useless. They are ALL good, and the person to get the job will have done so because of OTHER factors of differentiation” .

      I argue that one of those factors of Differentiation for CHO might have been his nationality. Its good for the competition, good for DG, and good for the pianists.

      Now, would Hamelin have sold as much? There’s a big question mark because – having the same last name of another pianist with the SAME nationality – there’s a big issue with disambiguation. If DG releases a CD of “HAMELIN” and it starts to sell, they will be indirectly promoting sales of the other Hamelin. People who are perfunctory followers of music could get confused, and potential sales (which these days one can count with the fingers of one hand as per Lebrecht’s figures) are lost.

      I’m not saying that’s the ONLY thing they took into account – Hamelin got 2nd – but I wouldnt be surprised. Quite honestly, if I am working in DG, I would bring it up in the discussion room. Its a Win Win and since this is music and all the finalists are good, why not make it a big bang, specially in a year with so many Piano competitions? That would surely reinstate the perception that Chopin is more important than the others.

      Among friends I had the same EXACT opinion while watching in TV a documentary crew for Lance Armstrong while he was training, BEFORE the Tour de France…..

      They were already making the film, and making the investment upfront, without knowing for sure if he was going to win or not. What had happened to Discovery Channel’s investments if he had lost?

      Well…I wonder what measures Armstrong took in order to make sure that the release took place as scheduled…


      • Milka says:

        Hearing him play only confirms the original thought… and reminds one of the play “Much Ado About Nothing “

      • someone says:

        I’ve never expected that listening to classical music automatically makes one an intelligent, a well-versed or cultured person.
        It is very clearly evident in you as well, if one sees what you have now and previously said in your comments.

        And you clearly said this in the comment above.
        “One HAS to be suspicious about the results and the imparciality of the jury. Norman speaks volumes about every other competition out there as corrupt yet none of this raises any eyebrows? Mhhh……. “
        If anybody is interested in what you’ve written more, they can click the links and check it out.
        I’ll leave it at that for now.

        I don’t care how much you are crazy about Lang Lang and whatever qualities of him you adore, but your attitude when you talked about someone else, I’ve often been dumbfounded.

        You defended Lang Lang aggressively when he was criticised for his supposedly poor quality in his recent music making in London (please don’t blame me for this, the British critics said that, not me) but under the postings about other performer who’s been doing really fine in competition, in CD sales, on the concert platform as well as in music reviews in the British and French papers, you didn’t just criticise the artist, but you did way more than that.

        ( For your information, I have personally never cared that much about whatever Lang Lang has been doing. I’ve found that just simply, his style or interpretation is not my cup of tea, in fact, at all, but I’ve never ever condemned or cursed him. I just don’t go to hear him any more and don’t even want to waste my time on criticising the musician whom I’m not even interested in any longer. However, I think he seems really friendly and approachable at least judging by his public image, and this too is one of the strongest points of him that makes him so much popular. He seems to know very well about it and I absolutely have no bad feelings towards it. )

        I’m not asking you or anyone to like any other performers or to agree with anyone else, but I’m just talking about your attitude.
        You know how it feels like when you see people are criticising musicians whom you adore, I’m sure you know, even if the criticism was only about their music. However, you have done much worse things towards someone else by making groundless suspicions and predictions about a very promising artist’s future.
        Do you think that kind of attitude is cultured?

        About the rest, I’ve just laughed loudly.
        In particular, when you insisted
        “ All I said is that while deciding the winner of the competition, it is an INCREDIBLE COINCIDENCE that the winner was from one of the 2-3 countries in the world that 1) still has CD stores, and whose population therefore 2) still buy classical CD’s. “

        Do you know how small the classical music market, except the education field, in Korea was before Seong-Jin’s CD came out?
        I’m sure at least DG knew very well about it.
        It really is a very unusual case and no one could predict it was going to happen like this.

        Why not to think this way?
        In the countries where most children have been learning musical instruments so they’ve got more chances to be exposed to classical music early on, the possibilities of producing better and more musicians become bigger regardless of nationality or ethnic background.

        I remember that once Angela Hewitt visited Singapore a long time ago, she wrote on her blog that the audience was much younger than in western countries and people were very attentive.
        The situation is more or less the same in Korea, Japan and in some other parts of Asia.
        That’s one of the reasons, I and many other professional musicians think, why many of the finalists were Asian or of Asian origin this year and it’s not strange to see previous Chopin winners were from such countries like Russia and Poland and Italia with great musical traditions.

        I mean, for this matter, thinking about how easy to reach a musical instrument for children is better than thinking about how easy to reach a CD shop and how many people buy classical music CDs.

        As I already said, buying a CD in a shop is no longer normal in Korea too and the shop appeared in the newspapers was a very special one which means it’s not common. It’s rather a cultural place.
        At the total number of CD shops online as well as offline and the amount of classical music CD sales a year, the US or UK or Japan may beat Korea, and China has a growing market for this.

        Even in the number of pre-planned concerts of the Chopin winners, while Japan and China have several, Korea had only one time, now has got two.
        It means that this year, No One could decide the winner according to the size of the classical music market of Korea.
        So, rather than having suspicions about groundless links between the size of the classical music market in Korea and the decision making process about this year’s Chopin winner, I’d recommend people should look at the power of education.

        Seong-Jin also first discovered his talent while he was learning how to play the piano and violin as a hobby when he was a child.
        Even the fastidious violinist Kyung-Wha Chung called him a genius without the least bit of hesitation.
        She also said that the more surprising qualities of him than his talent are genuine modesty and his endless efforts in music making.

        They start talking about Seong-Jin from 8:55.

        At any time, Seong-Jin’s musicianship or artistry hasn’t been much in question, but in the past, people weren’t sure about his market potential because he doesn’t have showmanship which seems to be a quite important element even in the classical music business these days.
        But this year’s Chopin Competition jury has chosen him as the winner and now, it has been proved that its choice was absolutely right in all aspects.

        Seong-Jin’s playing is amazing and he sells sixty thousand copies of the CD and thousands of concert tickets not only in Korea.
        His concerts and recitals in Britain, France, the Netherlands, Japan and China have been completely packed and extremely well received by both the audiences and critics.

        Seong-Jin was also so surprised and said he was even a bit scared in a way because so many people and orchestras have been contacting him, but he has always wanted more chances to play music in concert halls and therefore has been preparing well and is happy about it.

        He’s clearly not interested in merely money or the number of concerts.
        He’s talked about it many times and said he wouldn’t take up too many concert offers a year.
        I think he’s just wanted more choices and freedom in choosing such things like places and repertoire.

        Obviously, DG must have been very surprised as well and happy that the album sales have been going well.
        It was a kind of venture, I think, deciding to make an album directly from the competition before the winner is confirmed and therefore no prediction about sales rate could be made.

        The winner didn’t have the luxury of choice in place, time, orchestra and even piano.
        One of the most difficult things during the competition was when choosing the right piano for him, he said, as there was a very limited choice of pianos and a very short time was given so he couldn’t even check the piano sound properly and how it would work in the hall, but luckily those limited conditions didn’t kill his musicality.

        If one really is a talented businessman, the person wouldn’t take all the risks mentioned above in the first place.
        DG could’ve chosen whose music to record afterwards as they did in the past.
        Wouldn’t it be much simpler than calculating the number of CD shops and potential buyers of each country?

        Certainly, this time, all the things didn’t happen because of the size of the classical music market or nationality or name of the winner.

        It has happened because of this.
        When the Danish Radio interviewed Mikhail Pletnev before the concert with Seong-Jin Cho, he said this.

        “ He(Seong-Jin Cho) has two special things … three. First, he has very good piano technique, those not limited. Second, which I like very much is he’s very natural so he has natural feeling for music and finally No.3 is that I still can feel that he has got some good potential for developing his abilities and his talent. ”

        If anyone wants to hear the interview, you can go to the address of the Danish Radio website and skip to around 11:07

        It was a live broadcast, directly from the concert hall where Seong-Jin played the Grieg piano concerto with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Mikhail Pletnev in Denmark Copenhagen in 5 Feb. 2015.

        Simply, I can’t agree more.
        I’ve been to Mr Pletnev’s piano recital a long time ago and was far more than astonished.
        It was just way beyond what I’d heard from CDs or on YouTube.
        I still can feel the air of that night.
        I’m immensely happy a really great pianist himself, Mikhail Pletnev sees the same things in Seong-Jin as I do.

        Great talent, natural feelings for music, very good but seemingly effortless piano technique, beauty of lucid and shimmering piano sound, exquisite touches creating various tones, shades and colours, poetic expression, genuine modesty.
        When those things come together in a very natural way, what more one could wish for?

  • Karen says:

    Congratulations to Seong-Jin Cho ! Well-deserved and bravo !