Chicago Sinfonietta and Mucca Pazza at Symphony Center Review- Kindred Spirits Leave Audience Beaming Smiles


When Chicago Sinfonietta coined it’s new logo – “Daring, Defiant, Different”—they mistakenly left out “Delightful”.  That was abundantly clear by the end of their joint concert with seeming kindred spirit Mucca Pazza, the punk marching band that has bottled joy in its shtick-on-steroids marching band persona. 



The fun began even before the orchestra sounded its first note.  The Sinfonietta’s Executive Director Jim Hirsh came out to greet the audience in marching band attire, cracking jokes that he “had a makeover over the summer”.  Then an electric violinist played “Star Splangled Banner” with enough reverb to summon Jimi Hendrix’ spirit to the hall.


Having just heard the Chicago Sinfonietta perform superbly with Chicago Opera Theater in “Macbeth” the day before, we worried that they would have had little time to rehearse for the evening’s performance.  That was misplaced worry.  Chicago Sinfonietta shined musically more than ever before during this evening dedicated to marching music.  With the opening notes of Vaughan Williams “English Folk Song Suite” and beyond the orchestra was especially crisp and light when the score called for such. 



Compared to prior years, the orchestra appears to be much more polished and responsive to Maestro Chen’s directions.  When you see how she begins each piece by broadly smiling at the orchestra as she lifts her baton it becomes no wonder why.  It seems like Mei-Ann Chen has charmed her orchestra to play at a higher professional level.


The new skill level of the orchestra was especially apparent during their performance of Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34”, a piece that required every section of the orchestra to solo and also play as an ensemble.


Of particular note in the evening’s performance was the Symphony Center premiere and only third performance ever of African-American female composer Florence Price’s “Dance in the Canebrakes”.   The three movements of this piece are aptly titled:  “Nimble Feet”; “Tropical Noon” and “Silk Hat and Walking Cane”.  Bringing such little heard repertoire to us is part of Sinfonietta’s mission in striving for diversity and leaves you feeling that your time is well-spent.



Then, imagine that lifting platform that the ever-so-serious Chicago Symphony Orchestra uses to lift pianos up and down from the stage instead being used as a startling entrance for a good part of the Mucca Pazza in studied clownish marching band attire with their trombone, accordion, trumpet, tuba et al. shining entrance.  One Mucca Pazza member is reading a book, another is doing pirouettes in a short, short skirt as she plays the accordion.  Every member of Mucca Pazza is in character, seeming to be drawn by Dr. Seuss.




Imagine too the ever-so-genial Maestro Mei-Ann Chen introducing the 1812 Overture by with an explanation of how it was commemorating a marching battle between the Russians and French.  The Chicago Sinfonietta was to play the part of the Russians and Mucca Pazza that of the French in this battle of the bands.  Next thing you know the cheerleaders of Mucca Pazza led the group’s entrée in Symphony Center’s terrace brandishing loaves of French bread as their French army emblem. 


With cheerleaders carrying pom-poms made from crime scene caution tape, band members wearing ill-fitting marching band suits in varied colors, and every gesture shouting “don’t take this seriously please”—Mucca Pazza brought everyone in the audience to ear-to-ear smiles.  Just in case you didn’t think that this was possibly the most delightful time you had ever spent in Symphony Center, cannons shot out confetti during the 1812 Overture.



This wasn’t just fun—this was uproariously FUN!


This was the first concert in Chicago Sinfonietta’s new season which continues with a Day of the Dead concert performed both in Wentz Concert Hall at North Central College and in Orchestra Hall of Symphony Center. 


For information on tickets and the upcoming season visit the Chicago Sinfonietta website or call the box office at 312 284 1554.   

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