Mei-Ann Chen on what makes a successful American conductor

Posted on: September 26, 2013

“What’s it like to be a conductor in America who’s neither white nor male?,” asks Colin Eatock in Sunday’s (9/22) Houston Chronicle. Eatock speaks to Mei-Ann Chen, music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Sinfonietta, about her experiences as a conductor. Chen is in Houston to conduct the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra’s September 27 concert. “If we’re talking purely about conducting, I can say from experience that musicians judge conductors on whether they give them what they need to play the music well,” says Chen. “They don’t care about background, or gender or race. They care about whether you can make music with your body language.” But, she says, “In America, a music director is not simply the person on the podium—the music director is the face of the orchestra in the community…. It all depends on what kind of person a community is ready to embrace.… Conducting is about molding all the musicians on stage into one single voice…. There’s a connection between detective stories and conducting because studying a musical composition is very much like solving a puzzle.… You look for clues left behind by the composer to understand what the music is trying to convey.”

Posted September 26, 2013