Conductor Kenneth Jean might be called a true cosmopolitan, both in his background and his musical career. Born in New York City and raised in Hong Kong, where he began his music studies, he resettled in San Francisco at 15 and later moved back to New York for studies at Juilliard. Jean has held conducting positions in both the U.S. and Hong Kong and, not surprisingly, possesses a highly eclectic repertory, inclusive not only of standards by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, and other well-known composers, but of works by Chinese contemporary figures like Gang Chen, Zhan-hao He, Hu-guang Xin, and other such unfamiliar composers. He has held conducting posts with a varied array of orchestras, as well, from front-rank ensembles like the Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra, to second-tier groups like the Florida Philharmonic, to far-off ensembles (though not to him) like the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Jean has appeared on countless recordings over the years, mostly for Naxos and its sister label Marco Polo.
Kenneth Jean was born in New York City on October 25, 1952. Brought up and educated in Hong Kong, he returned to the U.S. in 1967 and enrolled at San Francisco State University, where he studied violin. Four years later he enrolled at Juilliard for studies in conducting. Among his teachers there was Jean Morel. Jean debuted at Carnegie Hall at age 20, leading a performance by the Youth Symphony Orchestra of New York, an ensemble he was then appointed to serve as music director. Following graduation he served for two years as conducting assistant with the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1979 he accepted a post with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as resident conductor, serving until 1985. Jean was also active in Hong Kong during the latter years of his Detroit tenure: from 1984-1993 he was the Hong Kong Philharmonic's principal guest conductor. 1986 was a watershed year for Jean: he was appointed music director of the Fort Lauderdale-based Florida Philharmonic Orchestra (departing in 1992), and also appointed associate conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, remaining until 1993. From 1997 to 2002 Jean served as music director of the Tulsa Philharmonic Orchestra. Jean has remained active in the U.S. and abroad since his Tulsa post. Among his more acclaimed recordings is Viva España!, a Naxos CD collection of Spanish orchestral works by Albeniz and de Falla, performed by the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra.