Spirit and Inspiration: In Conversation with Conductor Shiyeon Sung

South Korean conductor Shiyeon Sung leads the orchestra at the Seattle Symphony’s eleventh annual Celebrate Asia concert on January 27.

By Andrew Stiefel

Conductor Shiyeon Sung made global headlines in 2014 when she was named Chief Conductor of the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra, making her the first woman appointed to lead a Korean orchestra. Seattle audiences can look forward to joining her for another first: her Seattle Symphony debut on January 27 at the eleventh annual Celebrate Asia concert at Benaroya Hall.

Sung entered the spotlight a decade ago after winning first prize in the Sir Georg Solti International Conductors Competition in 2006. A year later, she was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and in 2009 was named Associate Conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

Since her thrilling debut on the international stage, Sung has brought her natural authority on the podium and nuanced musical interpretations to orchestras around the world, from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia to the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in Germany and to the Philharmonia Orchestra in London.

After concluding her tenure as Chief Conductor of the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra last season, Sung’s career continues to rise, including her return to the Boston Symphony Orchestra stage this month and with the Orchestre national d'île-de-France later this spring.

We wanted to know more about Sung ahead of her debut with the Seattle Symphony. Here’s what we found out!

How did you get started in music?

My mother loves classical music very much. Since my childhood, I’ve listened to Beethoven symphonies, Schumann and Schubert piano pieces, and songs by many different composers. Then, I started to play piano when I was 4 years old — it’s actually amazing that my mother found out my talent so early.

 What led you to a career in conducting?

I was fascinated by the different kinds of concerts when I studied in Berlin. The city was always full of life with music and so many choices of experiences between the different orchestras. One day I saw a video of Furtwängler conducting the Berlin Philharmonic and it hit my 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.

What do you love most about conducting today?

Communication with the musicians, and the mutual exchange of energy and inspiration. When it works, you’ll never forget the moment for the rest of your life.

I’m always curious: do you have a favorite place to study scores?

I am not very particular about the place: I only need a piano and quiet place where I can concentrate on the music.

Do you have any special connections to the music, artists or composers on the program you are conducting?

Once I heard the opera Alice in Wonderland by Unsuk Chin, I immediately fell in love with her music. I’m very glad to be performing music from the opera in her song cycle, snagS&Snarls, with the wonderful soprano Kathleen Kim. Both women are my mentors and friends. Seong-Jin Cho, a famous and beloved pianist, will also join us on the concert. I am very glad to be performing together with these wonderful artists.

When you’re not on stage, how do you enjoy spending your time?

I am a very normal person. I enjoy going to the cinema or theater with my friends, or traveling in nature. Also, I love to clean my apartment. Studying music never gives me the full satisfaction of a completed task, but cleaning my home gives me that “it’s done” feeling!

Conductor Shiyeon Sung will lead the Seattle Symphony in a thrilling program as part of the eleventh annual Celebrate Asia concert on January 27!


Posted on December 27, 2018