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Sinfonietta Taps First New Conductor Since Founding

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 4, 2010 6:40PM

Photo from the Chicago Sinfonietta's website
The Chicago Sinfonietta announced that 37-year-old Mei-Ann Chen will take over as music director in the fall of 2011, continuing an institution-wide commitment to diversity begun by the group's founder and current conductor Paul Freeman. Chen will become one of the few Asians, as well as one of a small handful of women, to lead a professional orchestra.

The Sinfonietta was created in 1987 explicitly to provide minorities with opportunities in classical music, a business that's traditionally been a white men's club. The Sinfonietta has been diligent about maintaining diversity - according to a 2007 survey, it's the most diverse professional orchestra - and applies that ethos throughout the organization, from the leadership to the musicians to the repertoire's composers. The Sinfonietta boasts some impressive numbers: minorities make up 55% of orchestra members, 56% of board members, and 42% of staff. To contrast, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra hired its first and so far only full-time black musician, trumpeter Tage Larsen, in 2002.

Chen, born in Taiwan and a U.S. resident since 1989, is currently the assistant conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (which also has a female music director, Marin Alsop) and prior to that held the same position with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In 2005, she became the first woman to win the Malko International Conductors Competition. She begins a tenure as music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra this fall, a position she will hold concurrently with her job at the Sinfonietta.