Guest conductor Carolyn Kuan to make Chautauqua debut with CSO program of ‘Symphonic Fireworks’

Members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra take a bow after their performance on July 27 in the Amphitheater. Carrie Legg/Staff Photographer

Sarah Russo
Staff writer

Working with top-tier ballets, operas and orchestras, Carolyn Kuan is a conductor of versatility. 

Kuan will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra this evening as the guest conductor for a program titled “Symphonic Fireworks.” The CSO will perform at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. 

Kuan and the CSO will only have one rehearsal together before the concert tonight, and Kuan said the “music will have to be put together very quickly.” 


The program includes four selections Kuan described as a mix of  “audience favorites” and “the best of classicals” with just one piece on the program people might not know. 

Chautauqua’s Performing and Visual Arts Department worked with Kuan to develop the “Symphonic Fireworks” program. The night begins with Bedrich Smetana’s Vltava (The Moldau) and will continue with Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Huang Ruo’s Folk Songs for Orchestra, and concludes with  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Español. Kuan said she’s very familiar with all the pieces on the program and has lost track of how many times she’s performed some of them.

Kuan has been a conductor for more than 20 years performing with groups across the world including New York City Ballet, the Santa Fe Opera, the Florida Orchestra, West Australian Orchestra, the Symphonic Orchestra of Yucatan, and many more. 

Over the course of her career, Kuan said her passion for music has only deepened throughout her experiences. 

“When I was younger, it was just about music. But as I get older, it really becomes more and more clear to me,” Kuan said. “What drives me more than anything is that feeling of making a difference as artists. … How do we try to make sense of the world and how do we try to make a difference, even though our form is music?” 

Using her career as a conductor, Kuan has cultivated an expertise in Asian music and contemporary works. She helped launch the Celebrate Asia! Program with community leaders representing eight Asian cultures and led sold-out performances for three years in a row. 

Kuan said she frequently gravitates toward music selections that reflect issues she cares about such as environmental rights and LGBTQ+ issues. 

“It’s always very important to me to try to bring awareness to issues,” Kuan said. “This is much easier when I’m the music director,” like using Tchaikovsky — a composer Kuan said “struggled tremendously with mental health” — to brig awareness to mental health issues.

Kuan said that “music has a very special ability to bring people together.” The program tonight has “big variety” to allow many people of all backgrounds and interests to come together to “enjoy the joy of music.” 

The world, she said, “is full of struggles right now, full of inequality. But when all of us come together to enjoy music and just block out the rest of the world … and let the music kind of bring us some peace and joy, there is something very special about it.”

“I think it’s important to use music through (an) issue,” Kuan said, “through the things that connect people … so that people can have a deeper experience.”


The author Sarah Russo

Sarah Russo is a senior at Syracuse University studying broadcast and digital journalism. At Syracuse, she reports and hosts for CitrusTV and writes for The Daily Orange and Baked Magazine. Sarah also interned at the National Comedy Center last summer. When she’s not reporting, she enjoys being outside biking, swimming or reading. As a Chautauqua County native, Sarah is excited to work in a place close to home and her heart this summer. She will be covering the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series.