Shi-Yeon Sung, a gifted young conductor, is enjoying success at the highest level, joining the Boston Symphony Orchestra as an assistant conductor to James Levine in 2007, the first woman chosen to occupy this three-year post. During this time, she debuted in the subscription series, conducted two concerts at Tanglewood, and conducted at late notice several times including the season-opening concerts in September 2009. Earlier, Sung had won a number of conducting competitions, beginning in 2004 and continuing until winning first place in the prestigious Georg Solti Conductor's Competition in September 2006 in Frankfurt, Germany.
She was one of three finalists chosen from over 500 applicants from 72 countries for the Solti competition and was the first woman to win first place since the biannual event started in 2002. She received a €15,000 prize and the opportunity to conduct both the Frankfurt Museum Orchestra and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony.
Born in Pusan, South Korea, Shi-Yeon began studying piano at the age of four in Seoul. She presented her first recital at thirteen and at age eighteen traveled to Europe to study piano, first in Switzerland and then in Germany. She studied with Eckart Heiligers in Zurich and then with Laszlo Simon and Erich Andreas at the University of the Arts in Berlin, where she completed a master's degree in piano in 2001. During her studies in Berlin, she also participated in master classes with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Sergej Dorensky.
Sung began conducting study in 2001 with Rolf Reuter at the Hanns Eisler School of Music in Berlin and, a year later, made her debut conducting Mozart's Magic Flute opera in Berlin. From February 2003 to February 2006, she was chief conductor of the Capella Academica, symphony orchestra of Humboldt University in Berlin.
In 2004 Shi-Yeon Sung won a conducting competition, becoming the grant recipient at the Conducting Forum of the German Music Council and also won the female conductors’ competition in Solingen. In 2007, the same year in which the appointment to the BSO occurred, she also took second place in the Bamberg, Germany, Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition (no first prize was awarded).
In July 2008, she debuted with the BSO in a Tanglewood performance at Lenox, Massachusetts, which Matthew Guerrieri of the Boston Globe described as "gorgeous," possessing momentum, and "deftly polished." He also commented on her "calculated though graceful" conducting and "her grounded podium presence and rapport with the orchestra . . . ." *
Sung has now worked with numerous orchestras in Europe and the Seoul Philharmonie Orchestra in Korea, where she is now Associate Conductor, a post created for her in 2009. On short notice, she conducted a concert in August 2008 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic when its conductor was ill. An article in the LA Times praised the performance, given in the Hollywood Bowl to an audience of over 6,000, noting that her leadership of demanding works by Wagner, Schumann, and Brahms received an enthusiastic response from the audience.
In 2010-2011 she debuted at The Great Mountains Music Festival, in its first year with their new Music Directors, Kyung-Wha Chung and Myung-Wha Chung. In June 2010 Sung led the high-profile re-opening concert in the legendary and newly refurbished Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, a concert widely acclaimed in the Argentinean press. In 2011-2012 she guest-conducted several orchestras in Japan and Europe, including Orquestra Simfonica de Valles, which gave a concert in Spain's prestigious Palau de Ia Musica in Barcelona. She is also active as a director of numerous opera productions.
Although her mother was baptized when her daughter was five, Sung waited until residing in Germany to join the Seventh-day Adventist church. She believes that since she conducts music to praise God, Sabbath conflicts with scheduled concerts are not a real issue.
* Boston Globe, 23 July 2008
Sources: The Concert Office Richter, The International Musical Olympus Festival, Playbill Arts News (13 September 2006), Bamberg Symphony, and International Conductors' Competition websites; Matthew Guerrieri, review, Boston Globe, 23 July 2008; and Rick Schultz, review, Los Angeles Times (28 August 2008); Alita Byrd, interview, Spectrum, Spring 2008, 9-12; Biography at her website, shiyeonsung.com (2013).