Mei-Ann Chen Named First Female Asian Chief Conductor of Austria’s recreation – Grosses Orchester Graz at Styriarte
Taiwanese American conductor Mei-Ann Chen officially takes on the post of principal conductor of recreation – Grosses Orchester Graz at Styriarte beginning this fall, making her the first female Asian conductor to serve as chief conductor of the ensemble. She is also one of the first female Asian conductors to hold such a position with an Austrian orchestra.
Announced today by Mathis Huber, General Manager of the acclaimed 19-year-old ensemble, the appointment comes after only two seasons of Ms. Chen’s original three-year term as the orchestra’s first-ever principal guest conductor.
“Since Mei-Ann Chen’s first collaboration with recreation in May 2011, a great and still growing affinity has been felt between the musicians of the orchestra, Haus Styriarte, and her, resulting in all our collaborations turning into very special moments of artistic and human encounter,” said Mr. Huber. “Principal guest conductor of the orchestra recreation since 2019, beginning this 2021-2022 season, she will now serve as recreation’s principal conductor for five years, fulfilling a long-cherished wish of the orchestra. In addition to curating three major orchestral projects in Graz each season, she will open up fields of art for Styriarte and, in doing so, bring her great passion for working with youth orchestras and championing female composers to Graz together with recreation.”
“Appointing one of the first Asian woman conductors in Austria to the post of chief conductor is just another example of this 21st century orchestra’s leadership in the field. I am deeply grateful for the trust that Mathis Huber and his incredible team at Styriarte have placed in me,” said Ms. Chen. “Every return to Graz during the past decade has always been a highlight in my guesting schedule and working with the Styriarte team feels more like being in a musical family over time. With its diverse pool of musicians of 20 plus nationalities and such a friendly atmosphere, it was literally ‘love at first sight!’ since 2011.
“Serving as the ensemble’s first principal guest conductor since 2019 was both an enormous pleasure and a great honor! The virtual concerts we did together during the pandemic provided much healing and inspiring moments for many – memories I will treasure dearly and also a reminder of the importance of the arts in daily life, as well as in a worldwide crisis.
“I can’t wait to begin our new partnership, and the exciting possibilities it can bring for the future to both loyal supporters in Austria and the new global audiences Styriarte has gained through the virtual world.”
Ms. Chen’s work with recreation – Grosses Orchester Graz has its origins in her work in Chicago, when her 2009 audition program for Chicago Sinfonietta’s Music Director search caught the attention of the Styriarte team. In 2011, the ensemble’s invitation (and that program) became her Austrian debut.
“Mei-Ann is a dynamic force recognized not only for her ongoing work with Chicago Sinfonietta in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and innovative programming, but for inspiring others and making connections between audiences, musicians and community,” stated Chicago Sinfonietta Chief Executive Officer Blake-Anthony Johnson. “This new post is a reflection of the leadership within Chicago Sinfonietta responsible for being a leader in the field as a 21st century orchestra.”
The new five-year post with recreation – Grosses Orchester Graz at Styriarte is Ms. Chen’s first major European appointment. In addition to her role with Styriarte, Mei-Ann Chen is music director of the MacArthur Award-winning Chicago Sinfonietta since 2011, making her the first Asian female conductor to lead the orchestra as its second music director, and is the first-ever artistic partner of Houston’s ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra) (since 2019). In 2016, she became one of a few Asian female conductors to hold a post in Taiwan when she became artistic director & conductor for the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra Summer Festival. Ms. Chen is the first female music director and conductor laureate of Tennessee’s Memphis Symphony Orchestra (having served as music director from 2010 – 2016). In 2005, Ms. Chen became the first woman – and still is the only woman – to have won First Prize at the prestigious Malko Competition, as well as being the 2007 recipient of the Taki Concordia Fellowship founded by Marin Alsop. She is also the first student in New England Conservatory’s history to receive master’s degrees simultaneously in both violin and conducting.