Tonal Evolution: Great New Music That Makes Room for Tunes
"Debates about new music have always focused mainly on styles that have caught listeners off guard. ...But the best of this music is almost always more than a prefix suggests. ...Nor is it about to vanish, as several new releases offering works by composers born in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, make clear. River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO), a flexible chamber orchestra based in Houston, has devoted its debut recording, Visions Take Flight (Innova, 2 CDs) to six recent neo-Romantic scores. They are all steeped in tonality and built, at least partially, on traditional structural models, but they are also different enough that their composers’ thumbprints shine through."
— Allan Kozinn,
San Francisco Classical Voice
Classical Music CD Review: ROCO’s “Visions Take Flight”
"All of the performances, led with elegant command by Mei-Ann Chen, may as well be considered definitive. ROCO plays with terrific technical command, certainly, but also with a real sense of style and abandon. Just listen to the blazing colors of the Al-Zand, or the biting rhythms of Teen Murti, or the manic glee that marks parts of Jabberwocky and try not to get drawn in.
Actually, don’t do that. Just give in. After all, Visions Take Flight is one of those rarest of accomplishments: a contemporary music album that’s a sheer joy to listen to, from start to finish. Those come along, well, pretty rarely."
— Jonathan Blumhofer,
Visions Take Flight: ROCO Impresses with Debut Album of New Music
"Visions Take Flight begins with Al-Zand’s Visions from Another World (2008), an apt choice to introduce the capabilities of the ensemble. In the playful first and third movements, lively, simple melodies are passed around the instrumental families of the orchestra, which plays with energy and precision under the direction of conductor Mei-Ann Chen. ... there’s more than enough substance to make Visions Take Flight an impressive debut. It is unusual to see an orchestra of any size make its first recorded statement a collection of new music, let alone all self-commissioned works. The performances throughout are full of verve and musicality, and the technical quality of the recordings is excellent."
— Jeffrey Young,
I Care If You Listen
ROCO: Visions Tak Flight CD Review
"There's one reason in particular why Visions Take Flight, the double-CD debut release by ROCO, the Houston-based River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, nabbed the number nine slot in textura's 2018 list of top classical releases. It's not because the performances are stellar, which they are, and not because the ensemble plays magnificently, which it does. No, it's because when ROCO selected works to include on the release, the musicians selected their favourite pieces from the group's repertoire and the five chosen from the then fifty-eight available (the total now seventy-five) constitute an incredible sampling of material by living American composers. It's this that recommends the release most, though the realizations by the ensemble, conducted by Mei-Ann Chen, are as impressive. "
Review of ROCO: Visions Take Flight
"A flexible, large ensemble that plays to the manor born, even when performing recent commissioned pieces, it's modern classical music without artifice when it boils things down to the chops that really matter. Delightfully played, this is a set for moldy figs and newbies to enjoy together without quibble. Well done."
— Chris Spector,
Review: Superstar pianist Lang Lang energizes sold-out Symphony Hall crowd
"Chen and the ASO followed with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, the middle child among his three final symphonies, all written within a matter of weeks during the summer of 1788. The Serenade and the Symphony were approached in a rather muscular way, evidenced both by sound and Chen’s conducting gestures. That character was enhanced by the use of a large complement of strings, rather than one more consistent with the 18th century in size. But it was most evident through Chen’s vigorous, robust approach to the music, particularly to shaping phrases. This energy propelled the Symphony No. 40, and Chen’s understanding and handling of the opening bars of the first movement paid ode to the approach taught to many of us by Leonard Bernstein in one of his television broadcasts about the piece."
— Mark Gresham,
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Lang Lang
"The program was a kind of 'Mozart’s Greatest Hits'. Eine kleine Nachtmusik was given a sparkling performance. Sometimes being a guest conductor can ignite a fire in an orchestra and there was no doubt that Ms. Chen lit one here; she infused a new energy into the orchestra’s performance. In the first movement Allegro, the violins were silky and performed with a refined lightness and outstanding ensemble. The basses, too, were energetic, powerful and precise. The languorous Andante was polished and sounded intimate, in spite of the large number of strings employed. Ms. Chen chose a slightly brisk tempo for the Allegretto. By the Allegro finale, Chen had set expectations for tight dynamics and precise entrances, and she delivered.The ASO strings provided a winning execution of this familiar favourite; lean, smooth and with beautifully sculpted dynamics. ... The Allegretto [of Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor] was bold; Chen and Lang were in lockstep in extracting the beauty, creativity and energy of the finale."
— William E. Ford,
Chicago Sinfonietta celebrates the American immigration experience in Boyer’s up
"...the orchestra played with great polish and commitment under Chen who deftly handled the alternating spoken and musical elements with clear stop-and-go cues.... The Danzon No. 2 by Arturo Marquez has become the Mexican composer’s sole repertoire piece to such an extent that one sometimes wonders if there really is a Danzon No. 1. Chen led a worthy performance of this overplayed work, bringing idiomatic lilt to the tango-like opening theme and syncopated bite to the ensuing dances, leading the music in her own Terpsichorean manner."
— Lawrence Johnson,
Santa Rosa Symphony
“Chen is diminutive but powerful, with an exacting style of conducting that commands attention.”
“Chen displayed almost everything you could want from a conductor: musicality, confidence, wonderful technique, and restless enthusiasm.”(Santa Rosa Symphony)
— Steve Osborn,
Santa Rosa Symphony
“Her controlled yet fluid conducting style combined clear cues and beats with sweeping, circular gestures reminiscent of the great maestro Seiji Ozawa.” (Santa Rosa Symphony)
— Diane Peterson,
The Press Democrat (CA)
Conductor Mei-Ann Chen Elicits Impressive Work From Symphony Silicon Valley
“a vivid and energetic conductor”
— David Bratman,
Guest Conductor Mei-Ann Chen Leads a Joyous KSO Through an Inspired and Eclectic
“The evening’s diverse program took yet another turn with the concluding work: Igor Stravinsky’s 1919 Suite from The Firebird, music drawn from the composer’s first ballet collaboration with the Ballet Russes in Paris. It was in this magical, fairy-story work that one recognized Chen’s ability to plumb the depths of an orchestra’s potential and inspire joy and energetic performance from the players.”
— Alan Sherrod,
Malmo Symphony Orchestra
“The performance indeed offered a captivating and inspired interpretation.” (translation)
— Carlhakan Larsen,
"Taiwanese-born conductor Mei-Ann Chen... drew a richly romantic sound from the orchestra. ...The program began with Mozart’s overture to “The Magic Flute” and ended with Schubert’s Fourth Symphony. Chen conducted all of it with weight, precision and an intensity that sometimes became breathless."
— Lawrence Toppman,
Grand Rapids Symphony
"Grand Rapids Symphony's Classical Series concert, which repeats tonight, isn't easily explained. But it was exciting to experience. In part, that's due to the popularity of music by Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. But mostly it's due to the incomparable Time for Three as guest artists and to the irrepressible Mei-Ann Chen as guest conductor. ... Chen... was a colorful, even flamboyant, conjuror of sounds and crafter of textures. The orchestra clearly was having a good time."
— Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk,
Sarasota Orchestra presents tour de force under guest conductor Chen
"The deeply-resonant opening chords [of Rimski-Korsakov's Scheherazade] contrasting the near transparent pianissimo wind chords that followed stand as a simple testament to the extreme capabilities of these musicians. What seemed simple at first carried through the musical and technical demands of the entire work. The string tone, magnificent in the lush romantic melodies, was coupled with excellent solo turns by all the winds and brass. By the conclusion we were spent by Chen’s exhilarating tempos of the tour de force performance."
— Gayle Williams,
Herald Tribune (Sarasota, FL)
Review of Delights and Dances
"This album contains three twentieth century works for string quartet and orchestra in the baroque concerto grosso tradition: where a smaller ensemble (here the string quartet) is contrasted with a larger ensemble – the orchestra. ...Delights and Dances lives up to its title.... ...Benjamin Lees (1924-2010) Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (1964) is a more serious and modern work. ...This is an exhilarating and significant American concerto, and the Harlem Quartet and Chicago Sinfonietta play it for all it’s worth. Chinese composer An-Lun Huang’s Sabei Dance is a crowd-pleasing four-minute work whose oriental lyricism clears the palate and prepares the listener for conductor, composer and arranger Randall Craig Fleischer’s West Side Story Concerto. ...the performance and recording of Fleischer’s arrangement is superb.... ... the whole album is easy to enjoy."
— John Sunier/Robert Moon,
Mei-Ann Chen makes an auspicious CSO debut
"But like the Sultan’s wife who heads off her own death by telling her husband wondrous tales for 1,001 nights, Chen worked some enchantment of her own on the CSO Thursday night. Often performed as a mixture of overly perfumed lyricism and ersatz exoticism, Sheherazade became something much more powerful and intimate. Setting a deliberate rather than rhapsodic pace throughout the work, drawing pristine yet expressive phrasing from the orchestra, Chen transformed the story.
Without losing any of her mysterious aura, Sheherazade became a cool-headed beauty, a worthy adversary to the mighty sultan. Passions ran high in the stories she told. But this self-possessed young woman was smart enough to keep a tight rein on her own passions, which made her all but irresistible. ...Chen’s blending of orchestral forces was equally deft in Mendelssohn’s overture, which runs from sunny evocations of a dappled, free-flowing river to darker eruptions."
— Wynne Delacoma,