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Conductor Carolyn Kuan Among 11 To Become U.S. Citizens At HSO Concert

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra's season-opening "Eroica" weekend just got even more heroic.

On Oct. 7, before the second night of the HSO's "Beethoven's Eroica" Masterworks Series at the Bushnell, 11 Connecticut residents will take the oath to become U.S. citizens.

HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan, a native of Taiwan, will be one of them.

"With everything that's going on, I want to be able to vote," Kuan says. "I want to be able to advocate for issues that I believe in and those close to me care about."

Robert A. Richardson, United States Judge for the District of Connecticut, presides over the ceremony, which takes place at 6:30 p.m. in Belding Theater. Ticket holders for that concert are welcome to attend. Free tickets were provided to family members of the new citizens courtesy of the ceremony sponsor, Leete, Kosto & Wizner.

Ruth Sovronsky, the HSO's development director, came up with the idea.

"Hosting a Naturalization Ceremony at the Hartford Symphony Orchestra is a natural extension of what we believe: music, as the universal language, truly does build a better community, welcoming all regardless of background, borders, skin shade, religion or economics," Sovronsky wrote via email. "Music is vital: it is hope."

Kuan, who came to the United States at 14, agreed to participate.

"When the HSO was talking about the idea, it seems perfect that I would join the others in taking my oath on the stage," she says. "I think, in many ways, it's especially meaningful, because the symphony has been such an important part of my life and this community. I feel like this is a family. With something as special as this, you want your family there."

Kuan's path to naturalization was rocky. "If you know anything about the immigration process, it's very unpredictable," she says. "I was on a student visa for a long time. It was very difficult to get a work permit."

Under normal circumstances, foreign students and workers can live in the U.S. for decades without becoming citizens.

"The big thing is to get a work visa, and then the next big hurdle is to apply for the Green Card. From the time you become a Green Card holder to the time you can apply for citizenship is five years. You can't leave the country for more than a few months at a time."

While working at the Seattle Symphony, Kuan tried to transition from Extraordinary Artist Visa status to obtaining a Green Card, which allows permanent U.S. residency, but Immigration needed additional evidence of her qualifications. Kuan thought she'd have to leave the country. Friends, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, wrote letters on her behalf.

Recent experiences at the U.S. Immigration Office in Hartford, however, were overwhelmingly positive.

"I left the office thinking that we must have one of the most friendly and professional Immigration offices right here in Downtown Hartford," Kuan says.

Kuan travels frequently, but she hasn't stepped outside the United States since applying for citizenship roughly a year ago — "just because," she says.

Now, at the end of her naturalization journey, Kuan can't predict how she'll feel at the ceremony.

"I don't know what to expect. We always open the season with the "Star-Spangled Banner." Music is always emotional. It's hard to tell. I imagine it will be emotional. I still have to do my job and focus on the music."

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