said this week­end’s con­certs will give young play­ers a unique op­por­tu­nity. “We are ac­tu­ally pre­par­ing them to play with pro­fes­sion­als on­stage, to­gether,” she said. “The ex­pec­ta­tions are very high-level.”

Deb­o­rah, who has been study­ing vi­o­lin since she was 9, said she en­joys the “chal­lenge” of the mu­sic. “I feel like if I can do this, I can do any­thing.”

Born in Kaoh­si­ung, the sec­ond-most pop­u­lous city in Tai­wan, Chen was im­me­di­ately at­tracted to mu­sic. En­cour­aged by her ed­u­ca­tor par­ents, she be­gan tak­ing pi­ano and vi­o­lin lessons at age 7.

At 10, she was in­vited to play with an or­ches­tra on­stage. She de­scribes this cir­cum­stance as “the light-bulb mo­ment” in which she sud­denly re­al­ized she wanted to be a con­duc­tor, “so I could play the big­gest in­stru­ment in the room” — the or­ches­tra. Be­cause there was greater op­por­tu­nity for fe­male con­duc­tors in the U.S. than in Asia, “I re­al­ized Amer­ica is the place for my dream.”

Chen came to the U.S. as a teenager to study, and she has col­lected schol­ar­ships and prizes and de­grees and doc­tor­ates ever since, work­ing as a con­duc­tor or as­sis­tant con­duc­tor with ensem­bles in Port­land, Bal­ti­more and else­where be­fore be­ing re­cruited in 2010 to be the fourth con­duc­tor and mu­sic di­rec­tor in the now 62-year his­tory of the Mem­phis Sym­phony Or­ches­tra.

Many peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that be­ing a con­duc­tor in a mid­size city such as Mem­phis is not nec­es­sar­ily a full-time job. The past few sea­sons, Chen also has worked as mu­sic di­rec­tor for the Chicago Sin­foni­etta, an or­ches­tra with a spe­cial em­pha­sis on “in­clu­sive­ness” — an em­pha­sis that also has be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant for the Mem­phis Sym­phony and its play­ers, First Ten­nessee Master­works Con­cert Se­ries: Works by Mahler, Borodin, Vaugh­anWil­liams. 7:30 p.m. Satur­day, Can­non Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, 255 N. Main. Tick­ets: $15 to $85. 2:30 p.m. Sun­day, Ger­man­town Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, 1801 Ex­eter. Tick­ets: $45. Visit mem­phissym­phony. org, or call (901) 5372525.

who spend much of their time in the schools and other “non-venue” spa­ces.

A draw­back to be­ing in the U.S., how­ever, is that Chen has been able to see her ag­ing par­ents in Tai­wan only about once a year. (At one point, she went five years without see­ing them, she said.) That is one of the pri­mary rea­sons last year she de­cided to leave the MSO and ac­cept a job as artis­tic di­rec­tor and con­duc­tor of the Na­tional Tai­wan Sym­phony Or­ches­tra Sum­mer Or­ches­tra Fes­ti­val in Taichung.

An­other rea­son is less flat­ter­ing for Mem­phis: Chen said the de­creas­ing num­ber of flights out of Mem­phis In­ter­na­tional Air­port made it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for her to meet her in­creas­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ments. She said that in the past few years she has spent about 18 weeks a year in Mem­phis, 12 weeks in Chicago and much of the rest of the time con­duct­ing in other ci­ties, “with 15 to 20 or­ches­tras a year.” She cur­rently has gigs set in Nor­way, Swe­den, Fin­land, Aus­tria and Ger­many, she said, plus a re­turn en­gage­ment at the fa­mous Con­cert­ge­bouw in the Nether­lands. Be­ing based in Mem­phis made such a sched­ule dif­fi­cult, she said.

Gayle S. Rose, chair of the Mem­phis Sym­phony board, called Chen “a shoot­ing star” whose pres­ence en­sured the or­ches­tra’s artis­tic cred­i­bil­ity even as the board was bat­tling sev­eral fi­nan­cial crises. “We knew when we hired her that she was a tal­ent that was go­ing places.”

Rose said Chen’s de­par­ture is par­tic­u­larly “bit­ter­sweet” be­cause it comes at a time of po­ten­tial eco­nomic sta­bil­ity for the sym­phony, thanks to the or­ga­ni­za­tions’s re­cently an­nounced part­ner­ship with the Univer­sity of Mem­phis.

“Un­like many con­duc­tors I’ve wit­nessed, MeiAnn has a pas­sion that runs through her veins, that com­mu­ni­cates not only to the mu­si­cians, but to the au­di­ence,” Rose said.

“She gives ev­ery fiber of her be­ing to ev­ery per­for­mance. Peo­ple may not no­tice that a lot of times when she con­ducts, she con­ducts from mem­ory,” without con­sult­ing the sheet mu­sic, “and a lot of con­duc­tors can’t do that. So then there’s noth­ing be­tween her in­ter­pre­ta­tion of that mu­sic and the mu­si­cians them­selves.”

At this week­end’s con­certs, Chen will be made MSO “con­duc­tor lau­re­ate,” which Rose called “an hon­orific ti­tle that says we want her to come back and guest-con­duct. Be­cause this is where her ca­reer was re­ally founded, where she got her chance.”

Chen said she’ll wel­come any op­por­tu­nity to re­turn.

“When you love a place, it’s never easy to say good­bye. You can­not come to a place like this and not take away some of the soul of the city. I am for­ever Mem­phian. So this is not good­bye, but more of a ‘See y’all later.’”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.