February 18, 2010

Mei-Ann Chen, First NEC Student to Receive Double Master's Degrees in Violin, Conducting, to Become Music Director of Memphis Symphony

Filling Post Left by David Loebel Who Will Become Associate Director of Orchestras at NEC

Mei-Ann Chen, who received much of her musical training at New England Conservatory as a teenager, undergraduate, and graduate student, has been selected at the next music director of the Memphis Symphony.  The 36-year old will fill the vacancy left by David Loebel, who recently retired from the orchestra and—coincidentally—was just named Associate Director of Orchestras at NEC.  Her tenure begins with the 2010-11 season.

Chen has been serving a one-year appointment as Assistant Conductor and League of American Orchestras Conducting Fellow of the Baltimore Symphony after concluding a highly successful tenure as Assistant Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Prior to her Atlanta job, she was music director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic in Oregon for five years.

In the first season of her three-year contract with Memphis, Chen will conduct 10 weeks of concerts in all of the MSO series, including the Masterworks series, Pops, and a chamber music series. In subsequent years, she will conduct 12 weeks each season.

Born in Taiwan, Chen, 36, began to play the violin at age 7.  But she was always fascinated with conducting and, while playing in orchestras, used to memorize all her music so she could observe what the conductors were doing. After hearing the NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra in Taiwan and auditioning for its conductor Benjamin Zander, the 16-year old came to the United States to study at the NEC at Walnut Hill program. Her teacher was the late violinist Marylou Speaker Churchill. Matriculating at NEC as a college student, she studied violin with Eric Rosenblith and James Buswell.  Her conducting studies were supervised by Frank Battisti and Richard Hoenich.  On the graduate level, Chen became the first student at NEC to receive a double master’s degree in violin and conducting. She also won the Gunther Schuller Medal for extraordinary contribution to musical life in the community and the George Chadwick Medal for most outstanding undergraduate.  In 2005, she became the first woman to win the International Malko Competition for Young Conductors.  Chen received a D.M.A. in conducting from the University of Michigan.

When she was selected to lead the Portland Youth Philharmonic, she was lavishly praised by Tony Woodcock, then President of the Oregon Symphony and a member of the PYP's search committee and now President of NEC.  “I have rarely come across a more outstanding young conductor whose musicianship and sheer technical ability just radiates across to the audience and to the Orchestra," Woodcock said. Her leadership demonstrated "a real connection between Conductor and Orchestra where the players not just responded but went with her challenges in the most musical and exhilarating manner. This was really quite breathtaking.”

For more information on NEC's conducting programs, check the NEC Website.


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Collaboration Programs, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music and jazz.

NEC presents more than 600 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, 106-year old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory