Episode 40: Orchestrating Connection
"Taiwanese American conductor Mei-Ann Chen joins The Active Share podcast with as much energy and enthusiasm as she brings to the orchestra. As the music director for the Chicago Sinfonietta and chief conductor of recreation of the Grosses Orchester Graz at Styriarte in Austria, Mei-Ann has broken barriers as the first female Asian conductor in this role. Tune in as she shares her journey, her unique approach to conducting, and the power of music in connecting humanity."
The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra series will present an impressive lineup of world-renowned conductors and early-career musicians at the Charleston Gaillard Center in the coming week for what is bound to be a highlight of the summer once again.
John Kennedy, Spoleto’s resident conductor and director of orchestral activities, kicks off the symphonic series June 5 with Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and the U.S. premiere of Philip Glass’s latest Symphony No. 14 , followed by the Spoleto debut on June 7 of Chicago Sinfonietta music director Mei-Ann Chen. The third concert on June 9 celebrates the long-awaited homecoming of two Charleston natives, conductor Jonathon Heyward and pianist Micah McLaurin.
“Be prepared for a lot of joy and energy in the music,” Kennedy said. “We’re so proud of our orchestra. It always is this amazing creature that comes alive for only one month a year.”
"But the best was yet to come. Beethoven's Fourth Symphony is somewhat neglected in comparison to its neighbours, the Eroica Symphony (No. 3) and the famous Fifth Symphony. Nevertheless, in the hands of a conductor like Mei-Ann Chen, this symphony sounds glorious. Chen is a highly communicative conductor. ... The audience was spellbound throughout. ... Overall, this was the happiest concert of the season."
"And Mei-Ann Chen made a welcome return five years after conducting one of the most satisfying oddities in CSO history: A pipa concerto by Zhao Jiping so rare it has never been recorded. ... More than anyone I know, including French masters Charles Munch and Pierre Monteux, she almost convinced me Franck’s lone symphony wasn’t waaaayyyy too long."
"We've been hearing about numerous identified and unidentified flying objects in recent weeks... But until now, not a word about the meteor that struck the Knight Theater in the heart of Uptown Charlotte. Her name is Mei-Ann Chen.... Chen's impact on - and appeal to - the Symphony's musicians and subscribers was nothing short of electric."
December 31, 2022, and January 1, 2023, Taiwanese American conductor Mei-Ann Chen will step in to replace conductor Marin Alsop (who is under doctor's orders not to travel as she recovers from the flu) in the Minnesota Orchestra's New Year's Eve concerts. She will lead the orchestra in a dynamic program of gorgeous melodies and rich colors beginning with Bernstein's lively Overture to Candide, followed by the Minnesota premiere of Jessie Montgomery's Rounds for Piano and Orchestra, written for and performed by pianist Awadagin Pratt. Rimsky-Korsakov's adventurous Scheherazade closes the concert. These performances mark Maestra Chen's debut with Minnesota Orchestra.
"...the music, while of varying qualities, had such an extravagance of inspiration, such pitch perfect artistry (led by the great Mei Ann Chen), and such imagination, that one wanted to yell out, “Stop! Let’s hear this again! Let’s catch our breath.”
New Sounds alert for ACO concert at Carnegie tomorrow night!
Dedicated to achieving gender equality in the music industry, the Donne Foundation creates impact through education and inspiration, and projects such as Donne, Women in Music. The Foundation's latest research "Equality & Diversity in Global Repertoire," on repertoire presented by 111 select orchestras from 31 countries during the 2021-22 season found that of those organizations, Chicago Sinfonietta was "the only orchestra to achieve 50/50 gender equality with an amazing diversity of composers as well."
As a result of the findings, Donne has selected Chicago Sinfonietta as the first recipient of its first Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Champions Award.
Music director Mei-Ann Chen and the Sinfonietta landed one of their most sensitive supporting performances in recent memory in Sierra’s concerto.
But there were further heights still to come, like Chen and Sinfonietta’s crisp, striding account of Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” Chen, who tends to fire on all cylinders early on and stay there in extroverted rep, reined in the majestic final movement so the orchestra didn’t fully crest until the piece’s end. The payoff was sublime, as were inner-movement solos by principal clarinetist Leslie Grimm and English hornist June Matayoshi.
"Youthful enthusiasm apart, much of the concert’s success and appeal was due to Chen’s magnetic presence on the podium as much as the programming. The three works—Jessie Montgomery’s Soul Force, George Gershwin’s Concerto in F, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances—provided ample opportunity for entire sections to shine and soloists to strut their stuff. It was not only a laudable educational project, but highly enjoyable and a lot of fun."
"The label [Cedille] has had a commitment not only to boosting local artists and musicians but artists and musicians of color. One Cedille regular has been the Chicago Sinfonietta, which is the most diverse orchestra in the United States."
"Most of this year’s planned tributes to Beethoven’s 250th birthday have been canceled due to the pandemic, so one welcomed the Sinfonietta’s contribution, which proved characteristically unorthodox. Rather than offer something wholly familiar, Chen led the Sinfonietta strings in Jeffrey L. Briggs' arrangement of two movements from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 13, “Pathetique.” This may have seemed like a bit of a stunt, in that this music is so inherently pianistic. But there were new pleasures to be drawn from this arrangement. In the adagio cantabile second movement (mistakenly identified onscreen as the third movement), Chen conjured considerable tenderness and introspection. And in the last movement, the conductor took a slower tempo than pianists usually do, giving the music a degree of grandeur it rarely receives.
The concert opened with Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and included Valerie Coleman’s arrangement of the South African National Anthem. Both works proved the value of elegantly stated populism and underscored the Sinfonietta’s message of optimism in the face of global adversity."