Meet Irwin Shung, Pianist and Professor of Music Theory


10/11/2016 – Dr. Irwin Shung is a pianist and professor of Music Theory at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He is also a Bellevue native with strong formative ties to our community.

During the 2015-16 season, Irwin presented a number of recitals that created and fostered an open dialogue between him and the audience. This year, Irwin returns as the curator of the Musician’s Notebook series. The series focuses on and presents compelling ideas about performance practice, composition, composer intent, music history, music theoary, and many more aspects of classical music. We hope our audiences will leave with a new-found appreciation for the art form.

Dr. Shung’s performance on October 15, 2016, will focus on Beethoven’s masterwork for piano, the Appassionnata Sonata.  We asked Dr. Shung to share some thoughts on the performance and to share with you, our audience, some of what has inspired him. Here is a transcript he provided:

When Resonance requested me to write a blog post about my upcoming concert, I was immediately reminded of my very first piano lesson with the inimitable Victoria Bogdashevskaya, who had dogs. This all has a point – I promise! These formidable canines, averaging sixteen years of age (I myself was fourteen), circled about like miniature vultures while I nervously performed a Chopin nocturne for the Russian pedagogue, who tore into me as soon as I finished, causing her diminutive companions to snarl and whine at length while my spirit was methodically shattered to pieces.

“My dear, I am sorry to say, you have fingers like cooked noodles,” Victoria proclaimed with relish. “You hunch over like a babushka, and the music is distorted until I cannot understand anything. Do you know, you have incorrect pitches in the first measure? See, here, and here. Come, I will show you how we do in this room.”

Indignant as I was, I could not help but have a certain curiosity as Victoria took my score between her massive fingers and placed it on her piano rack with measured movements. She pushed her glasses upward gently and in the same motion, began to play.

What happened next, I have never forgotten.

It seemed to me that Victoria disappeared. Her hands were now the tendrils of some otherworldly creature, with more sensitivity than all the nerve endings in my body combined. Where pain was needed in the music, there was pain, and where a warm, soaring line floated to the heavens, I felt my scalp being taken off with an ice-razor. Here at last was understanding, and honesty, and passion, and the sadness of having understood. Here was the music that I wanted to make!

I was a broken boy.

Today, nearly twenty years later, I look forward to my presentation and concert, “Understanding Beethoven’s Appassionata,” at Resonance with something very much like trepidation. Underneath it all, lies the conceited idea that I will do for my audience what Victoria did for me: demonstrate why something is worth loving. Someone once said that a person should enjoy good poetry the way a child enjoys snow; with much explication, the beauty is lost. If this is true, how much more naturally should the joy of all good music come to us, free of commentary!

Yet before that first meeting with Victoria, I never could have imagined the depths of Chopin’s craft, or the depth of the love I would come to bear for it. Over the years that I spent with my teacher, she showed me again and again that the language of music is infinite in nature, and that one can always discover paths that delve further in. If in some small way, I could enliven the audience’s awareness of the Appassionata’s world, which is one of storms, and terror, and in the end, redemption and heroism, then this concert should have been a success, by any measure I care for.

by Dr. Irwin Shung, 9/27/2016