Acclaimed conductor Mei-Ann Chen is just completing her first year as Music Director of the Chicago Sinfonietta. And Thursday she made her debut as a guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s subscription series. She made quite a “splash” with Florence Price’s Mississippi River Suite—the press has been filled with praise for the inspired leadership she brings to this work.
The Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein enthuses that “Chen clearly believes in the musical merits of ‘Mississippi River,’ and she succeeded in transferring her admiration to the orchestra”—and the audiences as well! Dating from 1934, ” the suite is attractive, tuneful, nostalgic, cannily scored, direct of expression,” and and example of “unabashed populism.” “Is a Florence Price renaissance upon us?” asks von Rheim. Clearly the answer is “yes,” if we follow Chen’s activities—she led the San Diego Symphony in the Mississippi River Suite in February, and will bring the work to her Memphis Symphony next weekend. She already performed Price’s Dances in the Canebreaks (as orchestrated by Price’s friend William Grant Still) in January in Memphis, and will bring it to the Chicago Sinfonietta on June 1.
Describing the Mississippi River Suite, Wynne Delacoma (writing in the Chicago Classical Review) was moved to write in detail:
In the last movement, solo instruments came and went like musicians heard on a nearby shore, a moody trumpet or glowing horn or ardent cello playing snatches of such spirituals as Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen and Go Down, Moses. Spiced with bits from popular songs of the 1900s, the musical layers came together in a jaunty mashup. But in the closing bars the river once again smoothed out into a gently flowing undercurrent and the call of a lonely harp. … The concert was an auspicious CSO subscription concert debut for Chen … With luck, we’ll see her again on the CSO podium.
And with luck, more ensembles will be bringing Florence Price’s music to life!