Susan Ung began studying violin late in her teens, and her first real viola teacher was Nobuko Imai at Northern Illinois University, beginning in the mid 1970's. Many fine string players from all over the world came to NIU to study with members of the Vermeer String Quartet. But while there, she was also a member of NIU's Chinese Orchestra and Balinese Gamelan, and participated in an active improvisation group that utilized other performers who were part of the Ethnomusicology music program there. She met Chinary Ung there in 1978, who was in his first teaching position and hired for a one-year appointment. They collaborated on the development of materials for Chinary's Khse Buon (1980), a solo work for cello commissioned by Marc Johnson, the cellist in the Vermeer Quartet. Susan was responsible in great for the opening of the work, as it was based on an improvisation inspired by music for the Indian saranghi, a five-stringed bowed instrument in the viola range.
Susan later did her graduate studies in viola performance at Stony Brook University in New York where there were opportunities to work with many fine artists from the New York City area, and she learned there that she wanted to focus on contemporary solo and chamber music. Later, she helped to manage a contemporary ensemble comprised of performers from the Phoenix Symphony and faculty members at Arizona State University, Ensemble 21, which made several recordings in Phoenix, and after moving to California she later worked with Harvey Sollberger as a manager and principal violist of the forward-looking La Jolla Symphony.
Chinary Ung has been composing works for decades that feature performers who are able to vocalize while playing their instruments, and Susan has become quite expert in this skill. He has written several works which feature her, including Spiral IX (for baritone, viola and percussion), Spiral XI, "Mother and Child", and a singing viola concerto, Singing Inside Aura. Susan has performed these works and others at many major venues across the U.S. and internationally, including in New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and in New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. Her recordings include those on New World Records, CRI, and Cambria as well as on Volume 1 of recorded works by Chinary Ung on Bridge Records, which includes a newly revised versions of Khse Buon (for solo viola) and Child Song, for alto flute, viola and harp. This Bridge recording was noted by critic Allan Kozinn as one of the 20 best classical CDs of 2009 in the New York Times 2009 Holiday Gift Guide. She is also featured on Bridge Records Volume 3 of works by Chinary Ung, Spiral XI, "Mother and Child", for solo viola/voice, and Spiral IX, "Maha Sathukar", for baritone, viola and percussion. Recordings of a singing viola concerto, Singing Inside Aura, will be coming out in in its orchestral version with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor, this July. There is also a chamber version of the work, premiered last year with Da Capo Chamber Players and recorded this past spring.