Jindong CaiDirector, US-China Music Institute
Conductor Jindong Cai is the director of the US-China Music Institute and professor of music and arts at Bard College. He is also academic director and associate conductor of The Orchestra Now (TON). Prior to joining Bard he was a professor of performance at Stanford University. Over the 30 years of his career in the United States, Cai has established himself as an active and dynamic conductor, scholar of Western classical music in China, and leading advocate of music from across Asia.
Cai started his professional conducting career with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, where he held assistant conducting positions and worked closely with Music Director Jesús López-Cobos, Conductor Keith Lockhart, and Cincinnati Pops Conductor Erich Kunzel. He has worked with numerous orchestras throughout North America and Asia. Cai maintains strong ties to his homeland and has conducted most of the top orchestras in China. He has served as the principal guest conductor of the China Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra since 2012. In 2015, he led the Shenzhen Symphony on its first tour to the American West Coast, performing in Palo Alto, San Jose, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The concerts included collaboration with the San Francisco Opera on the premiere of a scene from Bright Sheng’s much anticipated new opera, Dream of the Red Chamber.
Cai is a three-time recipient of the ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. He has recorded for the Centaur, Innova, and Vienna Modern Masters labels. He has close relationships with many Chinese composers and has premiered or performed new works by Tan Dun, Zhou Long, Chen Yi, Bright Sheng, Ye Xiaogang, and Wang Xilin, among others. In recent years, a number of professional orchestras have approached him to create special programs of works by Chinese and other Asian composers, including the “Celebration of Asia” concert with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in 2016.
Cai has received much critical acclaim for his opera performances. In 1992, his operatic conducting debut took place at Lincoln Center’s Mozart Bicentennial Festival in New York, when he appeared as a last-minute substitute for his mentor Gerhard Samuel in the world premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Zaide. The New York Times described the performance as “one of the more compelling theatrical experiences so far offered in the festival.” Cai serves as the principal guest conductor of the Mongolia State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet in Ulaan Baatar. Since 2011, he has visited Mongolia a dozen times to conduct opera and ballet performances, and led the theater’s historical first tour to China in 2013.
Cai joined the Stanford University faculty in 2004 as director of orchestral studies and conducted the Stanford Symphony Orchestra for 11 years. He led the Stanford Symphony Orchestra on three international tours—to Australia and New Zealand in 2005; China in 2008, as part of the Beijing Olympic Cultural Festival; and Europe in 2013. In 2013, Cai launched “The Beethoven Project,” for which the Stanford Symphony Orchestra performed all nine Beethoven symphonies and all five of the composer’s piano concerti—featuring Van Cliburn Gold Medal–winning pianist and Stanford alumnus Jon Nakamatsu—in one season. Cai is also the founder of the Stanford Pan-Asian Music Festival. Over its 11-year history, the festival—which is dedicated to promoting an appreciation of music in contemporary Asia through an annual series of concerts and academic activities—has become one of the most important platforms for the performance of Asian music in the United States.
As a scholar and expert on music in contemporary China and Asia, Cai is frequently interviewed by news media around the world, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC, and NPR. Together with his wife Sheila Melvin, Cai has coauthored several New York Times articles on the performing arts in China and the book Rhapsody in Red: How Western Classical Music Became Chinese. Their latest book, Beethoven in China: How the Great Composer Became an Icon in the People’s Republic, was published by Penguin in September 2015.
Born in Beijing, Cai received his early musical training in China, where he learned to play violin and piano. He came to the United States for his graduate studies at the New England Conservatory and the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. In 1989, he was selected to study with famed conductor Leonard Bernstein at the Tanglewood Music Center, and won the Conducting Fellowship Award at the Aspen Music Festival in 1990 and 1992.