"Tap in Turn up" Review - Chicago Sinfonietta and More

On Monday, October 5, 2015, Chicago Sinfonietta , founded by Dr. Paul Freeman 28 years ago, now under the expert baton of world-renowned Music Director and Conductor Mei-Ann Chen, presented a feast of music and dance entitled “Tap in Turn up”. The performance was held  in conjunction with dancers from Clinard Dance Theatre (Wendy Clinard and Marisela Tapia), a contemporary dance company rooted in flamenco, and the incomparable Washington D.C.-based Cartier Williams, tap dancer extraordinaire. The show was in pertinent part  a farewell tribute to Maestro Freeman, and marks the first event in a yearlong series entitled “Paul Freeman:Season of Celebration”.

 

Music Director Mei-Ann Chen; photo by Chris Ocken

A sinfonietta is a musical group that is larger than a chamber ensemble but smaller than a full-size or symphony orchestra. The stated mission of Chicago’s Sinfonietta orchestra is  “to serve as a national model for inclusiveness and innovation in classical music”, and to “help America become a true cultural democracy, in which everyone can share fully in its cultural resources and in which all can contribute to its cultural richness”. Indeed, Chicago’s Sinfonietta bills itself as “The Nation’s Most Diverse Orchestra”. Dr. Freeman founded the Sinfonietta after not finding enough opportunities for black conductors, composers, and performers. He retired in 2011, passed away in July, 2015,and was succeeded by Maestro Chen, a Taiwanese American conductor who currently serves at both Sinfonietta and as music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, the latter since 2010. She is acknowledged to be one of the most dynamic young conductors in America, and has worked before many orchestras both here and abroad, holding Masters degrees from the New England Conservatory in both violin and conducting and a DMA in conducting from the University of Michigan.

  

Music Director Mei-Ann Chen; photo by Chris Ocken

The program for “Tap in. Turn Up” included a number of personal tributes to Maestro Freeman, in-between a full concert of classical works punctuated by the percussive rhythms of dancing feet. The orchestra appeared to be as moved by the music and inspired by the dance as did the audience, and Maestro Chen was a living wonder. Her entire body appeared to be an instrument directing and participating in each piece; it was impossible to listen without being mesmerized by her swooping, bowing and commanding blithe figure. The musical selections were outstanding, and combined exquisitely with the exciting contemporary flamenco and electrifying modern percussive work of the dancers .

  

Clinard Dance Theatre. Photo by Boehm Photography

The program began with the modern Spanish sounds of “Fandangos for Orchestra”, (2003) by Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra, who was given the Academy Award in Music in 2003 by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. "Fandangos" has been described as “a festive and approachable curtain-raiser that shows off the orchestra to great effect”. It’s not surprising  that this piece was chosen, as one of the most moving descriptions of Maestro Freeman, given by a shy but eloquent orchestra member, recalled “He acknowledged the orchestra first”. “Fandangos” was performed with the graceful forms of modern flamenco dancers, dressed in vivid colors, inimitably straight-backed, extravagant in costume and in their turns, from The Clinard Dance Theatre.

  

The Sinfonietta Gala at the Fairmont in Chicago on Saturday, May 30th, 2015. Photos by Jasmin Shah

The spectacle continued with a fresh take on Russian-born Igor Stravinsky’s immortal “The Firebird Suite”, from the ballet of the same name, (1910). The ballet as exemplified by Cartier Williams incredible interpretive tap performance is based on the Russian legend of the Firebird, a powerful good spirit whose feathers supposedly  convey beauty and protection upon the earth. Williams needed no feathery costume as his sinuously fluttering arms and drumming,  mesmerizing footwork bore the Firebird alive, aloft, and literally  into the air when he leaped high and actually landed off the stage.

  

Music Director Mei-Ann Chen; photo by Chris Ocken

All of the dancers appeared together for their last dance, jubilantly sharing both the stage and  silken scarves to the joyous strains of Georgian- born Alexander Borodin’s romantic Russian piece “Polovtsian Dances”, a piece for two pianos from the opera “Prince Igor”.

  

Cartier Williams. Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Sinfonietta

The evenings finale was a triumph for the orchestra alone as they performed “Scheherazade”, (1888) by Russian composer, Nikolai  Rimsky- Korsakoff, an orchestral suite inspired by the largely Middle Eastern and Indian tales known as the Arabian Nights; like the rest of the evening, they were magical.

 

Music Director Mei-Ann Chen; photo by Chris Ocken

More information on the ChicagoSinfonietta

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