Carolyn Kuan


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 renewal contract through May, 2024.

Ms. Kuan’s North American engagements have included performances with the Baltimore Symphony, where she returned in the 2019/2020 season; as well as the symphonies of Detroit, Milwaukee, Omaha, San Francisco, Seattle, and Toronto; the Florida and Louisville orchestras; the New York City Ballet; the Colorado Music Festival and Glimmerglass Opera Festival; the New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and Washington National Opera. In the 2021/2022 season she made her debut with the Columbus (OH) Symphony and returned to conduct Opera Theatre of St. Louis in Harvey Milk and the Santa Fe Opera to conduct Huang Ruo’s M Butterfly.

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, the West Australian Symphony, and the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo. Ms. Kuan made her debut with English National Opera in Philip Glass’ Satyagraha in the 2021/2022 season. She will conduct the Borusan Istanbul Orchestra this season.

Although debuts with the Philadelphia Orchestra (at the Mann Music Center), at Lincoln Center (leading the opera Blue), and Orchestre de Paris were canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Kuan has had highlights in recent seasons that include debuts with the Singapore Symphony, Santa Barbara Symphony, and the Portland Opera, conducting a production of Rossini's La Cenerentola. She led Mark Campbell’s Stonewall with New York City Opera in June, 2019 which helped commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Carolyn Kuan also collaborated with Beth Morrison in a project 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. She conducted the premiere of Philip Glass's opera The Trial with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and has conducted the Santa Fe Opera in Huang Ruo’s Dr. Sun Yat-sen; the Washington National Opera in Daniel Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas.

While maintaining a solid connection with traditional repertoire, Carolyn Kuan has cultivated a unique expertise in Asian music and contemporary works. From 2007 to 2012, she 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 has led world premieres for Music from Japan, and has 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 was engaged 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 (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.