Celebrating her first season with the Chicago Sinfonietta as the new music director Mei-Ann Chen sat down with Chicago Classical Music to chat about her first season, goals with the organization and favorite things in Chicago.
Your conducting style is so intensely energetic and vibrant as compared to other conductors I’ve seen. Where does all that energy come from? How did you develop such a unique style?
It’s a combination of all my experiences. I worked with the oldest youth orchestra in the country, the Portland Youth Orchestra. The most precious thing that I took away from that experience was that those children make music from the heart. They don’t know hardship yet and make music in the purest form: they simply make music because they love it. The energy that they had has remained with me and their love for music reminds me why I wanted to be a musician to start.
I also have to thank all of my old mentors, who have all influenced me as an artist. I always conduct like it’s my last chance to make music. Conducting is about being the music, not beating it, and inspiring the musicians.
Now that you’ve been with the Sinfonietta for a bit, how do you plan to continue to support its mission of diversity? How is this mission important to you personally?
Sinfonietta was a long shot for me. I never thought that I would be in this position. After about five minutes into my audition, I knew I really had fallen in love with the musicians and the organization. It was serendipity because the orchestra I joined embraced diversity and inclusion through music, and really coincided with my own personal journey.
Chicago Sinfonietta has shown me that this dream of mine was possible and that the dreams of others are possible. I love that the programs, the musicians, the music and conductors all represent diversity in music. I want to use this experience and take it one step further and really focus on helping young conductors to learn and work with professionals to get experience to succeed. This is about quality and musical excellence, so I want to include with our fellowship programs more conductors and really help the next generation of musical leaders to realize their dreams too.
What has been your favorite part of being involved with Sinfonietta?
To be a part of an organization that has really given me the opportunity to think outside the box has been such a gift. A group that really understands that music is a universal language meant to connect people together and embraces diversity has been wonderful.
You’ve been involved with classical music all over the country, and the world. So what makes Chicago’s classical music scene different? What is it about Chicago that is unique?
I’ve been to Chicago before, but what is so unique about this city is how vibrant it is. There is such this attitude of “go get them”, “go get your dream” here. There is a sense that anything is possible in Chicago. The arts around the country are trembling because of the economy, but there are so many orchestras and ensembles here that are not just surviving, but thriving.
As a new resident of the Windy City, have you discovered a favorite spot in the city?
Millennium Park will always hold a special place for me. The Sinfonietta had a concert there to introduce me to Chicago. It was such an acoustically and wonderfully designed place, and so moving for me to be so warmly welcomed into the city. It’s a really special place for me.