The Chicago Sinfonietta Review – 24th Season Concludes With Passing of the Baton

The Chicago Sinfonietta’s 24th season concluded on May 23 with a triumphant tribute to its visionary founder and music director, Paul Freeman.  Under the baton of its new music director and conductor, Mei-Ann Chen, the orchestra performed works by women composers and a precise and energetic Scherzo capriccioso, op. 66 by Antonin Dvořák in honor of Maestro Freeman’s tenure as Music Director of the Czech National Symphony of Prague.   From the ethereal strains of  Jennifer Higden’s blue cathedral to echoes of Aaron Copland and Wynston Marsalis in Gwyneth Walker’s An American Concerto  featuring  Elena Uroiste’s  glowing performance as violin soloist,  the  concert was remarkable.   The third movement of Pulitzer Prize winner, Ellen Taaffee  Zwillich’s  Symphony No. 1 provided a showcase for the virtuosity and artistry of  the Sinfonietta’s players. Renee Baker, conducted her own new composition Divertmento Notte blu featuring the orchestra and friends, jazz musicians:  Mwata Bowden, David Boykin, Nicole Mitchell, Bruce Nelson, Teddy Rankin-Parker, in this new work.   

Maestro Freeman appeared to conduct the opening movement of Argentian Alberto Ginatera’s ballet  Estancia.  Then a reprise of the conclusion of the  Sinfonietta’s annual  A Dream Unfolds tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought an ecstatic audience to its feet to join soloist Elizabeth Norman and the Apostolic Church of God Choir for We Shall Overcome,  the anthem of the Civil Rights movement. This finale recognized Maestro Freeman’s crucial role breaking barriers for African American classical musicians and offering opportunities for classical instrumentalists of all colors by establishing the most diverse orchestra in America.  

Music Director and Conductor Mei-Ann Chen

On August 14 Mei-Ann Chen will take the podium at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park where all Chicagoans are invited to enjoy “Hello Chicago!” a free concert  of "Musical Excellence through Diversity" with the  Chicago Sinfonietta.  In addition to works by African-American composers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, the program will feature the Sones de México Ensemble Chicago. The orchestra will also perform excerpts from Zhan-Hao He and Gang Chen’s  The Butterfly Lovers with erhu (Chinese violin) soloist Betty Xiang.

Five additional concerts next season include a centennial celebration of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé with visual accompaniments designed by Dr. José Francisco Salgado, an astronomer and digital photography artist at the Adler Planetarium, excerpts of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Might’s Dream with Bill Kurtis as narrator, and three world premieres.  

Performances will be held at the Sinfonietta’s Chicago home venue, Orchestra Hall of Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Avenue, and at North Central College’s Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Avenue in Naperville.  The Second Annual Día de los Muertos concert honoring the early departed takes place November 1 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Drive, Chicago.

A video tribute after intermission gave a brief over-view of Maestro Freeman’s extraordinary experience studying classical music along with among a dozen siblings in a modest home in Richmond, Virginia where radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and symphony concerts were required listening.  His success as an instrumentalist (piano, clarinet, cello) and musical promise earned a scholarship at the Eastman School of Music where he began top flight training which took him to Berlin where he studied conducting with Ewald Lindemann.  Freeman’s achievements include conducting numerous orchestras world-wide, championing black composers and producing over 200 recordings, plus founding the Chicago Sinfonietta

Photos courtesy of the Chicago Sinfonietta

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