She Becomes First Woman Conductor In HSO's 68-Year History
January 19, 2011
Carolyn Kuan is the Hartford Symphony Orchestra's new music director, the 10th in the HSO's 68-year history, and the first woman to hold that position.
The announcement came Tuesday at a 4 p.m board meeting conducted by teleconference because of the weather. Kuan will take over leadership of the HSO from outgoing music director Edward Cumming effective in September.
Her selection ends a two-year search process that yielded several strong contenders and a significant public following.
"The Hartford Symphony was one of the most musical orchestras that I have worked with," Kuan said, referring to her conducting audition last December. "They were engaged, passionate and just fun, fantastic people.
"I also found the Hartford audience to be open and warm and tremendously caring," she said. "I can't imagine a better opportunity for my first music directorship"
Kuan, 33, a native of Taiwan, came to the United States by herself when she was 14 to attend high school at Northfield Mount Hermon in Western Massachusetts. "Bradley International Airport was my airport for eight years," she said.
She graduated cum laude from Smith College with degrees in music and economics, earned a master's degree in music from the University of Illinois and a conducting performance diploma from Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She has been associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, artist-in-residence at the New York City Ballet and assistant conductor for the Baltimore Opera Company.
"The first thing I am going to do is to get to know as much as I can about Hartford and the Hartford Symphony," Kuan said. "Music directors have to be a part of the community. I need to get to know the place. People need to see me in Starbucks."
The search process produced seven finalists announced in the fall of 2009, and each conducted a four-concert program with the HSO.
The public responded, far beyond the HSO's expectations, with a substantial online following for the symphony's "conductor search" blog.
The other finalists were Marcelo Lehninger, Kevin Rhodes, Tania Miller and Tito Muñoz. Two candidates, Andrew Kitsopoulos and Andrew Grams, withdrew from consideration.
"Kuan was the top choice advanced by the search committee," said Kristen Phillips, who was recently promoted from executive director to president and CEO of the Hartford Symphony. "There was widespread consensus on her candidacy."
The HSO signed Kuan to a standard three-year deal with an option for a two-year extension, Phillips said, the same kind of deal offered to Cumming when he came to Hartford. Cumming, who has served as music director since the fall of 2002, will conclude his HSO tenure in a farewell concert June 4. Phillips declined to give salary information.
Reaction to the announcement was enthusiastic from all corners of the community.
"Carolyn Kuan's passion for making music, her vision about the role an orchestra plays in improving a community, and her creative programming ideas made her the unanimous choice," said Michael Yaffe, chairman of the HSO's music director search committee and associate dean at the Yale School of Music.
Steven Wade, one of three HSO musicians on the nine-member search committee, said Kuan "showed us amazing energy, an artistry of great nuance and refinement and a wonderful sense of connection to both the music and the players."
"It was a wonderful choice, and it was the right choice," said Steve Metcalf, director of instrumental studies at the Hartt School. Metcalf, a member of the search committee, was the classical music critic for The Courant during the search that produced Cumming. "Carolyn was amazingly strong in rehearsal — not in a despotic way, but she exuded confidences and preparation. The idea was: 'I know what I'd like here. I've thought about this. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.'"
Phillips said, "Carolyn brings to the HSO a unique blend of tradition and innovation, business savvy and an understanding of how to create deeper engagement and relevance for the 21st-century symphony orchestra. I'm very optimistic that the HSO will grow artistically and as an institution under her dynamic, thoughtful leadership."
Kuan will address HSO musicians, staffers, board members, major donors and the media at a reception Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the HSO's concert home. She initially made her way to Hartford by train from New York City Tuesday afternoon, switching to a bus in New Haven because of weather.
Kuan will get to work quickly, returning to Hartford March 17 to 20 to conduct the HSO in the Music Director Inaugural concerts at the Bushnell, which will feature works of her own selection. Kuan will also conduct the first two concerts of the 2011 Talcott Mountain Music Festival in Simsbury, the HSO's outdoor summer concert series, on June 24 and July 1.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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