Conductor Shiyeon Sung found her passion for classical music at a young age, through starting piano at 4 years old and her mother’s love for the same music. Though she thrived as a pianist and won many youth competitions, she developed a problem with her arm and had to stop playing for a while.
“Then I wandered into the depths and realized what music meant in my life. Sometimes you discover the zest of life and your unknown passion through difficulties,” Shiyeon said.
While studying in Berlin, she saw a video of Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Berlin Philharmonic and it hit her heart directly.
“Conducting looked like a universal sphere — and it truly is! It attracted me immensely and led me to decide to become a conductor,” she said in an interview with Andrew Stiefel.
Symphony Debuts and Famous Operas
In 2019, Shiyeon will conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra in three subscription concerts with works by the Mendelssohn siblings and Dvořák. She also will conduct the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna again, which immediately re-invited her following the successful debut concert in the spring of 2018. She also will return to the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra for a few performances
The big events for her this year are her debuts.
On January 27, she will make her debut with the Seattle Symphony at the eleventh annual Celebrate Asia concert featuring the music of Korea at Benaroya Hall. This includes pianist Seong-Jin Cho, soprano Kathleen Kim, and the Seattle Symphony.
She is also planning her spring debut with the Orchestre National d’île de France.
She also will make her debut with the Korean National Opera, conducting a Marco-Gandini production of Puccini’s La Bohème at the Seoul Arts Center.
“I think the voice is the most beautiful instrument. If everything works out, the voice carries words directly into hearts. Comprehensive performances require more time and work, but give greater sense of achievements in return,” Shiyeon said.
Another project on the books is a new album for Berlin Classics that contain Chopin and Paderewski piano concerto played by pianist Claire Huangci.
Paving a New Way
For the past decade, Shiyeon has blazed her own path in the classical world. In 2006, she became the first woman to win first prize in the Sir Georg Solti International Conductors' Competition. In 2007, she won second prize in Bamberg's Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition (no first prize was given that year).
That year, she became the first female assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a post she held through 2010. During her three-year tenure in Boston, she began a close collaboration with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted its season-opening concert in 2007. In 2009, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra established an Associate Conductor’s position especially for her, which she held until 2013.
In 2014 when she was named chief conductor of the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra, making her the first woman appointed to lead a Korean orchestra. Since concluding this position in 2017, she still thrives in the classical music industry, not just from the stage but also within the community. When she worked in Korea, she invited the marginalized class people to nonprofit concerts and organized nonprofit master class for students.
She thinks people need a step-by-step approach to classical music, just like learning dance or yoga. Institutes or performing groups could try to plan various kinds of performance targeting diverse audience besides subscription concerts. For example, for young audience a dress code matching with the program can be set up so that audience can feel fun, free and have fantastic time.
“I believe that music is powerful enough to connect the people whoever they are. If you see that people need music and they can really get comfort from music, you can feel tremendous thrill. This joy is something I can’t compare to anything in the world. That’s why I perform the music on the stage,” Shiyeon said.
To learn more about Shiyeon, visit her webpage.