Memphis Symphony Orchestra optimistically prepares for Chen’s swan song

Reflecting on a refreshing and successful 2014-15 season, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra is looking ahead and making plans to send Maestra Mei-Ann Chen off with what they hope will be an even bigger and more successful season for her last year in Memphis.

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO), currently led by Music Director Chen, works to enrich the community through exceptional music and dynamic programming. More than 400 musicians, staff and volunteers make up the MSO, boasting a Masterworks series, a Pops schedule, educational outreach programs, several collaborations with local artists and organizations, as well as stalwart Memphis events like the Memphis in May Sunset Symphony.

To Roland Valliere, President and CEO at the MSO, Chen's send off is the most important aspect of the upcoming season. “It’s Mei-Ann Chen’s final season as Music Director, and she just does an amazing job at lifting the quality of the orchestra, building audiences and the community.  So this season will be a real celebration in that way."

But for an organization that has weathered some staggering financial troubles and is now losing its star conductor, is his optimism about the coming year misguided? Valliere makes a compelling case for a strong future.

He says symphony patrons have much to look forward to, as Chen is poised to direct one of the Symphony’s finest seasons yet.  Acclaimed featured guests will include Terrence Wilson, a Grammy Award-nominated pianist, and 18-year-old Memphis-native Randall Goosby, who made his orchestral debut at age nine with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, as well as Sujari Britt, a 13-year-old child prodigy cellist who has been playing since the age of two.

Last spring, the Helen and Jabie Hardin Charitable Trust awarded the MSO a $1 million gift to go towards its many outreach programs.  “Importantly, the gift will help to compensate the musicians,” says Valliere, who feels strongly about giving these musicians their much earned funds. In addition, Memphis can expect new educational programs to roll out with another large portion of the funds. 

Building on substantial momentum gained throughout the season, including the gift from the Helen and Jabie Hardin Charitable Trust, season subscriptions have already outpaced the previous season. The Symphony is encouraging patrons to purchase subscriptions now, as they continue to sell quickly.  “The key goal for the orchestra to reach more of the community,” adds Valliere.

With 90 percent of their ticket sales goal already met, MSO is heading full steam ahead. “Long-time patrons have recognized the exceptional season ahead of us, and those who may be new to symphonic music or who are ready to experience it once again should not hesitate to get in the door now,” says Valliere.

Read more articles by Kate Crowder.

Kate Crowder is a freelance writer and veteran educator who has taught for over a decade in public schools. The longtime Memphian and mother of three is frequently found on the stage as musician, actor, or director when not filling her role as contributor and Assistant Editor at High Ground News.
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