Charles Seo was appointed cellist of the Houston Symphony in the summer of 2018 at age 22. Previously, he served as principal cellist in the Colburn Orchestra. Charles, who made his solo orchestral debut at age 10, has performed as guest soloist with the Houston Symphony, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and San José Chamber Orchestra.
He is silver medalist of the 2014 Irving M. Klein International String Competition and bronze medalist of the 2014 Stulberg International String Competition. In 2013, he was the gold medalist of the Houston Symphony League Concerto Competition, the Lynn Harrell Concerto Competition, the Schmidbauer International Competition, and the 30th Pasadena Showcase House Instrumental Competition. Charles performed Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen with Christopher O’Riley on NPR’s From the Top.
Charles has collaborated with cellists Lynn Harrell, Robert deMaine, Clive Greensmith, Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt, David Geringas, Steven Isserlis, Jian Wang, Myung-wha Chung, Lluís Claret, Li-Wei Qin, Bion Tsang, and Laurence Lesser. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Colburn School, where he studied with Ronald Leonard and Greensmith.
What inspired you to become a musician?
My mother tells me I was extremely sensitive at a young age. She thought it would be best for me to play a deep-sounding instrument, hoping it would calm me down. When I turned 9, she suggested the cello, and I instantly fell in love with the instrument. I decided to pursue music professionally at the end of my freshman year in high school after I came back from the Meadowmount School of Music summer camp. Everything we did there was related to music, and I’d never been happier. At first, my parents resisted, because they knew choosing music would be a difficult path, but music is literally embedded in my Korean name, Chan Young, which means “praise God with music.” I asked them, “Why did you name me Chan Young if you didn’t want me to pursue music?” After a long discussion, they finally gave in. To this day, I am glad I made this choice because music means the world to me, and my parents are extremely supportive and proud.
Would you like to share a memorable moment or highlight from your career?
In the spring of 2014, I got to perform Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante with the Houston Symphony in this very hall. I was a senior in high school, and I had just won the Houston Symphony League Concerto Competition. It was my first time playing an entire concerto with a professional orchestra. It was particularly special for me because I got to perform with my mentor, Brinton Smith. I am reminded of all the musical journeys we have taken together every time I see him.
What would you be if you weren’t a cellist?
I want to say a KPOP star, but considering that I am the worst dancer you could possibly imagine, I think I have to give up that dream. I can’t imagine not being a musician, because I cannot imagine life without making music.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of music?
I love watching movies—especially Marvel films. I also like bowling, soccer, and snowboarding. Recently, I started taking drum lessons. And I absolutely love puppies!