Conductor Ching-Chun Lai has held the post of Director of Orchestras and Associate Professor of Music at the Crane School of Music, State University of New York at Potsdam since 2011. During her tenure, the Crane Symphony Orchestra has advanced swiftly in both quality of performance and reputation. The orchestra has performed in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. In Potsdam (NY), Dr. Lai appears annually in Potsdam’s traditional holiday “Candlelight Concert”, broadcast nationwide by PBS. As part of Crane’s educational mission, Dr. Lai and the Orchestra tour regularly throughout the Northeastern United States.
Possessing a wide range of symphonic repertoire, Dr. Lai has worked with professional orchestras in various settings, such as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Gstaad Festival Orchestra (Switzerland), Madison Bach Musicians, New Symphony Orchestra (Bulgaria), Richmond Symphony Orchestra, and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the course of her conducting career, Dr. Lai has performed in Jordan Hall in Boston, Overture Center and Music Hall in Madison (Wisconsin), and Chung-Hsin Concert Hall in Taiwan. She has prepared the orchestra and served as assistant/cover conductor for Gunther Schuller, JoAnn Falletta, and André Raphel, as well as Christof Perick, Larry Rachleff, and Duain Wolfe in the Lougheed-Kofoed Festival of the Arts. Dr. Lai has also collaborated with renowned artists, such as the Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet, percussionist Aiyun Huang, trombonist Burt Mason, and violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins.
With her deep interest in opera and new music, Dr. Lai has conducted the world premiere of Maura Bosch’s opera Art and Desire, a University of Wisconsin-Madison commission, as well as Jerry Hui’s comic opera Wired for Love. She has also worked for opera productions of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, L’elisir d’amore, and Maria Stuarda, Handel’s Alcina, Massenet’s Thaïs, and Britten’s Turn of the Screw. A great success, the performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the Madison Bach Musicians were described in Isthmus as “consistently excellent, from the opening triple-chorus to the final double chorus, while the harmonized chorales were soaring anthems of faith.” She has also collaborated with the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was a founding member of the group, New Muse. With these dynamic musicians, Dr. Lai undertook several significant projects including fully-staged performances of Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies, and performances of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.
Dr. Lai made her conducting debut at the age of 19 with Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University Wind Ensemble and was appointed conductor of that ensemble soon after her first engagement. During her tenure, this ensemble won music competitions in Taiwan, became one of the top university wind ensembles in the country, and was invited by the Asian Pacific Band Festival to perform in the Sydney Opera House in Australia.
A committed educator and experienced ensemble clinician, Dr. Lai has worked with numerous youth orchestras and university ensembles in Taiwan, Canada, and United States. Recently, she has conducted Boston University Symphony Orchestra, as well as several honors orchestras in New York State and Massachusetts, given conducting masterclasses at National Chia-Yi University in Taiwan, and served as ensemble clinician in New York, Wisconsin, and at the Kiwanis Music Festival in Canada. In 2015, Dr. Lai conducted a joint concert of Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, performed in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theater.
Dr. Lai twice received the Church Memorial Conducting Award from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in recognition of emerging conductors who show great professional promise. She was recently granted a competitive research award, the Dr. Nuala McGann Drescher Leave Program sponsored by the State of New York/United University Professions Joint Labor-Management Affirmative Action/Diversity Committee. Her interdisciplinary projects at SUNY-Potsdam include a collaboration with trombonist Burt Mason for the Untold Legacies residency (a series of concerts and discussions about diversity in the classical music world) as well as the Bill Williams’s residency, Path to Optimal Performance.
A Protégé of Gunther Schuller, Dr. Lai worked with the legendary maestro for over ten years. In addition, she studied with Neeme Jarvi and Johannes Schlaefli at the Gstaad Menuhin Festival and Academy in Switzerland, and participated in the Dallas Opera’s Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors. Masterclasses include work with Gustav Meier, JoAnn Falletta, and Ken Kiesler. Dr. Lai holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Master of Music degrees in Conducting with Distinction in Performance and Academic Honors from the New England Conservatory of Music. Dr. Lai also holds a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Aeronautics Engineering from the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. She was a faculty member at Mount Holyoke College prior to her current position.