Carolyn Kuan
Photo Credit: Charlie Schuck


"Only major orchestras play the Faust symphony, and it is not common fare even among them. The HSO played the work brilliantly. The big music was big, and the delicate solos and chamber textures were tasty and refined. Kuan took the third movement with a light touch and the humor and satire of the music popped. [...] This was a bold program. It was gutsy, risky and complicated. It was insightful and memorable. I have never seen anything quite like it. It was thrilling."

Hartford Symphony



Recognized as a conductor of extraordinary versatility, Carolyn Kuan has enjoyed successful associations with top tier orchestras, opera companies, ballet companies, and festivals worldwide. Her commitment to contemporary music has defined her approach to programming and established her as an international resource for new music and world premieres. Appointed Music Director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in 2011, she has signed a six-year contract extending their creative collaboration through May 2022.


Highlights of Ms. Kuan’s 2018/2019 season include debuts with the Singapore Symphony; Santa Barbara Symphony, featuring John Corigliano’s Red Violin; and the Portland Opera, conducting a production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola; as well as engagements with two of the top conservatory orchestras in the U.S., the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra, and Yale Philharmonia. She will end her season with a world premiere of Iain Bell’s Stonewall with the New York City Opera at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. Upcoming engagements in her 2019/2020 season include the world premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’s Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun with the Santa Fe Opera; her debut with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra; and a return engagement with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.


Ms. Kuan’s North American engagements have included performances with the symphonies of Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Omaha, San Francisco, Seattle, and Toronto; the Florida and Louisville orchestras; the New York City Ballet; the Colorado Music Festival and Glimmerglass Festival; the New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and Washington National Opera. Recent international engagements have included concerts with the Bournemouth Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, National Symphony of Taiwan, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Residentie Orkest, Orquesta Sinfonica de Yucatan, Royal Danish Ballet, and the West Australian Symphony.


Other career highlights include a project sponsored by Beth Morrison Projects called Ouroboros Trilogy, a three-part exploration of life, death, and rebirth as symbolized by the ancient Greek icon of a serpent eating its own tail. Working with composer Scott Wheeler, she directed Naga, one of the three operas commissioned for the trilogy. For her debut with the Santa Fe Opera, she conducted the premiere of Huang Ro’s Dr. Sun Yet-Sen with director James Robinson, and a mixed cast of east and west singers and instrumentalists, which garnered great critical acclaim. Her debut with the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center was a production of Daniel Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas, directed by Francesca Zambello.


During Ms. Kuan’s long tenure with the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, some of her finest successes bridged the gap between cultural and social issues, as in her work raising awareness of conservation and the environment through her performances around the globe of the multimedia project Life: A Journey Through Time. Developed by the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music and music director Marin Alsop, the project featured music by Philip Glass and images by famed National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting. Ms. Kuan’s notable performances of Life included a presentation at the Ninth World Wilderness Congress with Orquesta Sinfonica de Yucatan; at the eight-day June festival, Change Is Powerful, with the Detroit Symphony; and at CERN’s (European Organization for Nuclear Research) historical Large Hadron Collider Inauguration, with Orchestre de la Suisse Romande attended by Swiss President Pascal Couchpin, French Prime Minister François Fillon, more than 20 other European heads of state, and dozens of Nobel laureates.


Carolyn Kuan’s previous positions include Associate Conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Artist-in-Residence at the New York City Ballet; and Assistant Conductor for the Baltimore Opera Company. In her 2012 debut album for the Naxos label, Ms. Kuan conducted the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in various works by Chinese composers.


Recipient of numerous awards, Ms. Kuan holds the distinction of being the first woman to be awarded the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Fellowship by the Herbert von Karajan Centrum and American Austrian Foundation in 2003, resulting in her residency at the 2004 Salzburg Festival. Winner of the first Taki Concordia Fellowship, she has received additional awards from the Women’s Philharmonic, Conductors Guild, and Susan W. Rose Fund for Music. Ms. Kuan graduated cum laude from Smith College, received a Master of Music degree from the University of Illinois, and a Performance Diploma from the Peabody Conservatory.

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