In the second week of March 2020, just days before he was slated to perform a recital in Salt Lake City, nearly two years after winning the gold medal in the International Artists Competition of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, Changyong Shin was visiting local schools as part of Bachauer’s educational outreach program. The day before the recital, with abrupt notice, Salt Lake County shuttered all of the performing arts facilities due to the pandemic.
In an interview with The Utah Review, Shin said he returned to his New York City apartment, sensing, as he explains it, “an emergency that I needed to deal with urgently.” News of other concert cancellations cascaded, including a recital as part of completing the studies in Juilliard’s Artist Diploma program. He was studying with master teacher and pianist Robert McDonald, with whom he also studied at the Curtis Institute. Within a week after the sudden departure from Salt Lake City, Shin, the first Korean to win the Bachauer’s artists category competition, was back in Seoul.
Next week, Shin returns to the U.S. for his first concert outside of South Korea since before the pandemic, performing a recital at Carnegie Hall in New York City, which the Bachauer Foundation is presenting. The concert will take place in Zankel Hall on Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m., with Shin performing works by Schumann, Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Shin had originally been scheduled to perform a Carnegie Hall recital in the fall of 2020, but that was canceled because of pandemic restrictions.
Shin says he is delighted to return to New York City for the recital, which will be his ninth performance this year, as all of his other 2021 concerts have been in South Korea. “I have barely spoken any English since I left the U.S.,” he says, adding, “I have really missed New York so I have been watching YouTube videos about the city and places such as Central Park. I look forward to seeing my friends and my teacher again.”
Shin’s international competition record has been impressive. He took top honors in four international piano competitions within a two-year period. In addition to his 2018 gold medal at Bachauer, he won top prizes at the 2018 Rencontre Internationale des Pianistes Prix Zygmunt Zaleski in Paris, the 2017 Seoul International Piano Competition and the 2016 Hilton Head International Piano Competition.
Shin, 27, says news of his winning the Bachauer competition was highlighted in Korea, where he became a major music personality. As soon as concerts returned in 2020 in the performing arts calendar in and around Seoul, Shin was in hot demand. A recital tour in Seoul, Incheon, Gwangj and Ansan sold out quickly, as did a recital at the Seoul Art Center, which also featured a festival of concerts by 15 orchestras based in the country, in which Shin participated as a concerto soloist. Most recently, he played Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.5 with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra at Lotte Concert Hall and Seoul Art Center. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Korean audiences better,” he says, adding that the enthusiasm has been just as strong among non-classical music lovers as it has been with those familiar to the concert experience.
Shin took the pandemic hiatus in stride. “It was the right excuse to take a break from the fast pace of a horse race, with the competitions, concerts and the work in completing the Artist Diploma,” he adds. Meanwhile, he used the downtime to add works to his repertoire, including three Rachmaninoff works that will be featured at his Carnegie Hall recital: Daisies, op. 38, no. 3, Lilacs, op. 21, no. 5 and Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, op. 36. Daisies and Lilacs are ideal companion pieces for an artist’s return to a beloved city and an audience’s return to enjoying a live performance. Rachmaninoff wrote a solo piano transcription of Daisies, a 1916 song he set to a poem by Igor Severyanin. Lilacs is an earlier piece, written when the composer was 23, and is part of a set of 12 romances scored for voice and piano. The song, also transcribed for solo piano, is based on a poem by the 19th century Russian writer Ekaterina Andreyena Beketova, about the metaphor of happiness in blooming lilacs. Completed in 1913 and revised in 1931, Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Sonata, with some of the composer’s most formidable virtuosic demands of the soloist, is sure to make an exhilarating ride to end Shin’s appearance in Carnegie Hall.
His concerto repertoire also has expanded, including the aforementioned Prokofiev piano concerto, and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1, which he performs with the Korean Chamber Orchestra and the Incheon Philharmonic Orchestra. He has added a Haydn piano sonata as well as one of the warhorses of the classical piano repertoire — Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466.
Shin used the additional time to develop an exercise regime, starting with Pilates and then moving onto a workout schedule of two to three times a week with a personal trainer. “I never really exercised and I was not all that flexible so I thought Pilates would be good for my shoulders, back and arms,” he explains. “But, then with the gym workout and weights and squats, I noticed a difference.” He says that his friends tell him his sound is different — “more solid, some have said.” A self-professed night owl, Shin says that gym workouts have extended his stamina during his practice time in the evening. But, he also has noticed that he has much better control when switching between sudden shifts in dynamics — for example, with three works that will be featured on the Carnegie Hall recital: Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, op. 12 and Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, op. 60 and Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, op. 22. The eight pieces in Fantasiestücke are effusive in lyrical imagery while Chopin’s Barcarolle is a bravura piece that transforms the rolling 12/8 rhythm into a full-blown storm at sea. Meanwhile, the Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante is its own kaleidoscope of technique, flush with extensive runs and arpeggios and elaborate ornamentation.
Two of Shin’s competition wins also led to recording contracts with the Steinway & Sons label. After winning the Hilton Head Competition, he recorded an album of works by Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. After winning Bachauer, he recorded pieces by Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt. “After Hilton Head, I remember telling the recording engineers that if I win the Bachauer, I will be back and then when I did win it, they said, ‘oh my, you are back again.’”
The Carnegie Hall concert will be Shin’s final performance of 2021. As he continues performances in South Korea during 2022, he says that he looks forward to returning to Europe and the U.S., as the effects of the pandemic ease and restrictions continue to be lifted.
Tickets for the Oct. 29 recital are available at the Carnegie Hall website and information about the concert is available at the Bachauer website. Before entering the building, each person will be asked to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, wear masks and accept the COVID-19 liability waiver.