When interviewed by Splash magazine last September on her goals for the Chicago Sinfonietta, Music Director and Conductor Mei-Ann Chen said she wanted the Sinfonietta to become “the most impactful boutique orchestra” there is. If their “Día de los Muertos” concert is a bellwether, they are well on their way to meeting that goal.
With Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, in English) as the theme, the Sinfonietta not only plunged us into beautiful music by Latin composers but also gave us a romp through European notions of death with Mozart’s Requiem with an imaginative twist.
As the orchestra begins its musical exploration into mortality, mists swell up around the players. Then skeleton clad chorus members from DePaul University Singers filed into the Gallery above. That was the setting for Ainadamar (Fountain of Tears) by Osvaldo Golijov and libretto by David Henry Hwang. If you were a bit comfy from the pre-concert complimentary glass of wine that sure snapped you into attention. They drew us in and then soloist Elizabeth Norman delivered a highly professional and beautiful performance.
Tough act to follow, but with the help of Redmoon Theater, the entire DePaul University Singers now filed in wearing skeleton costumes and holding oversized skull placards—sometimes in front of them as they sang, sometimes at their side. Each section of the chorus—sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones-- moved in concert as a section, sometimes leaning left or right, sometimes akimbo.
The uplift in the crowd was obvious when most retreated to the Symphony Center Grainger Ballroom where the second of three complimentary wines were served that matched the music. There was a very friendly atmosphere where people would just as easily chat up the person next to them on line as those with whom they came. That it was a tasty Diseño Malbec as a teaser to the “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” performance to follow was a nice tie-in.
Piazzolla’s “Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) provided a showcase for Adé Williams, a 16 year-old violin virtuoso talent discovered by the Sinfonietta when she was only age 6.
The last piece, “El Sombrero de tres picos (Three Cornered Hat, Suite No.2) by de Falla wrapped up the evening.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the evening was in catching snippets of conversation in the concert hall. To example, one young man is asking those around him what an English Horn looks like. Two young women in the ballroom had never been to a classical music concert before.
Chicago Sinfonietta is creating an audience for classical music and doing it with great imagination and boldness. If you are seeking the consummate classical music performance the Chicago Sinfonietta might disappoint. But if you want to share in the enthusiasm of a crowd heavily populated with people hearing classical music for the first time you can do no better than attending a Sinfonietta concert.
The imaginative touches they make—whether adding sips of wine to make for congenial chats at intermissions to the mists and costumes of Day of the Dead-- are making classical music way cool. Bravo!
Visit the Chicago Sinfonietta website (http://www.chicagosinfonietta.org/) for more information on the 2014 concerts to come.
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Photos: Ocken Photography. Grainger Ballroom photo by Peter Kachergis