Houston Community News >>

5/27/2011-- Taiwan-born conductor Mei-Ann Chen, guest conductor of the Texas Music Festival June 18 and conductor of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra describes her life as a “Cinderella” story. She beat all the odds as a shy young girl from Kaohsung, Taiwan, who didn't speak English, to make it as a woman conductor of a major symphony orchestra in the U.S. She says she is "living the impossible dream.

Maestro Chen learned to play violin and piano as a child just so she could entertain her parents. Her music class was set up like an orchestra, so she played in a symphony at the age of 10. Her life-changing moment was watching the conductor. She was mesmerized by his ability to communicate with the students without words -- strictly through his eye contact and body motions. She ran home and told her parents that’s what she wanted to be -- a conductor! They discouraged her because there was no career path for women to be conductors in the 1980s. However Mei-Ann was so determined in her vision, that she would memorize her violin pieces so that she could come to rehearsals and watch the conductor the entire time she was playing. She didn’t have to refer to her sheet music!

This highly focused woman earned a makeshift audition in a hotel basement with none other than Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and an instructor at the New England Conservatory of Music, who was on tour of her hometown. She didn’t speak English at the time. Zander said he had never see or heard an Asian violinist play from the heart like she did. He offered her a scholarship to study in Boston. While her parents thought she would study violin, she knew she was on her way to becoming a conductor.

Chen was the first student in the New England Conservatory’s history to receive master’s degrees, simultaneously in both violin AND conducting! Hard fought to earn her first conducting job (she applied to so many and couldn’t get an audition after graduate school), she now has conducted symphony orchestras all over the world. Maestro Chen is eloquent, passionate for her work, her music, and her students (for years she was in charge of the Portland Youth Philharmonic in Oregon and led its sold-out debut at Carnegie Hall). She was the first woman to win the prestigious Malko Competition for conductors in Copenhagen in 2005. She will be in Houston for a teaching and conducting project she's doing in June at the Texas Music Festival summer music residency at the University of Houston Moores School of Music. One of the pieces she is conducting is "blue cathedral," composed by American composer Jennifer Higdon. Ms. Chen and Ms. Higdon are colleagues and friends. Maestro Chen debuted "Blue Cathedral" in Sweden.