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.
Ms. Kuan’s recent North American engagements have included performances with the symphonies of Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Seattle; the Florida and Louisville orchestras; the New York City Ballet; Colorado Music Festival; the New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and Washington National Opera. Recent international engagements have included concerts with the Bournemouth Symphony, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Hong Kong Philharmonic, National Symphony of Taiwan, Residentie Orkest, Orquesta Sinfonica de Yucatan, Royal Danish Ballet, West Australian Symphony, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Combining her expertise and love of contemporary and Asian music, Ms. Kuan began the 2014/2015 Season in a summer-long debut with the Santa Fe Opera. She worked closely with composer Huang Ruo and director James Robinson, and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen premiered to great critical acclaim with a mixed cast of east and west singers and instrumentalists. In addition to her weeks with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, other highlights included her debut with the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center in Daniel Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas, directed by Francesca Zambello; her return to the Seattle Symphony to lead works by Tan Dun, Yugo Kanno (U.S. Premiere), and Unsuk Chin; her return to Brazil to work with Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo in a program of Britten, Turnage, and Bernstein; and her debut with the Glimmerglass Festival in a new production of The Magic Flute in summer 2015.
While maintaining a solid connection with traditional repertoire, Ms. Kuan has cultivated a unique expertise in Asian music and contemporary works. From 2007 to 2012, Ms. Kuan directed the annual San Francisco Symphony Chinese New Year concert. For the Seattle Symphony, Ms. Kuan helped launch the hugely successful Celebrate Asia! program with community leaders representing eight Asian cultures, and led sold-out performances for three consecutive years. She led would premiers for Music from Japan, and conducted multimedia productions of the Butterfly Lovers Concerto and A Monkey’s Tale as part of Detroit Symphony’s World Music Series.
From 2003 to 2012, Ms. Kuan worked closely with the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music and visiting composers. Some of her finest successes have 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 features music by Philip Glass and images by famed National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting. Ms. Kuan’s notable performances of Life include 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 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.
Ms. Kuan’s past associations 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.
The recipient of numerous awards, Ms. Kuan holds the distinction of being the first female 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 from the University of Illinois, and a Performance Diploma from the Peabody Conservatory.