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Chicago Sinfonietta

Chicago, IL         

Since 1987, Chicago Sinfonietta has been a defiantly different kind of orchestra. Founded by Maestro Paul Freeman to address the disconnect between the utter lack of diversity in orchestras and the vibrant, nuanced, communities for which they play. For nearly 30 years, the Sinfonietta has made it our mission to represent the city of Chicago, reflecting that vibrancy on stage and in our programming, making classical music accessible for anyone.

In everything we do, we are inspired by our founder Paul Freeman (1936-2015). He was the first African American conductor on the podium of more than 50 orchestras worldwide and conducted more than 100 orchestras in 28 countries over the course of his career. He served as chief conductor of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Prague and the music director of the Victoria Symphony in Canada (1979-1989). He made more than 200 recordings in his career (on par with mega maestros such as von Karajan and Bernstein) and highlighted prominent, but under-recorded, diverse composers at every turn.

Maestro Freeman served as the Sinfonetta’s music director for 24 years. From its first performance in October of 1987 in River Forest to six European tours, two Kennedy Center performances, two Millennium Park concerts attended by over 19,000 people, and so on, the Sinfonietta garnered critical and popular success not only for its uniqueness, but for its excellence.

In 2009, the Sinfonietta began its first Music Director search after Maestro Freeman announced his retirement. A two-year, international search that began with over forty candidates concluded with rising conducting star Mei-Ann Chen selected as Paul’s successor. In May 2011, Paul Freeman publicly conducted the orchestra for the final time in a nationally broadcast concert, and in a particularly emotional moment, passed his baton to Mei-Ann at the conclusion of the performance.

Maestro Chen’s tenure began with a welcoming concert at Millennium Park attended by over 7,000 people. The reviews and audience response for her first season were extraordinary, and concluded with the orchestra’s first recording in ten years, released in 2013 on the Cedille label. The Sinfonietta was named by ASCAP as the recipient of the 2011-12 Awards for Adventurous Programming for Mei-Ann’s first season of concerts and in 2013 was dubbed, “The city’s hippest orchestra” by the Chicago Tribune. From a battle of the bands with Mucca Pazza to collaborations with Young Chicago Authors, FootworKINGZ, and bass virtuoso, Victor Wooten the Sinfonietta has embraced the daring programming that has always been part of its history. Audience response over the last 5 seasons has been unprecedented.

 In 2016, Chicago Sinfonietta was one of just 14 organizations in the nation to receive the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions – the “genius award” for non-profit organizations. Along with national recognition, this award came with a large, one-time investment of $625,000 establishing the organizations first ever reserve fund and quasi-endowment. An award like this one not only proves that Maestro Freeman’s vision all those years ago is just as relevant and crucial today as it was then, but also works to ensure that his special orchestra will provide opportunities, redefine classical music, and thrill audiences for many, many years to come.

Saibei Dance from Saibei Suite No. 2

Performed and recorded by Chicago Sinfonietta, under the baton of Maestro Mei-Ann Chen, on June 19, 2012.

This was the first piece Maestro Mei-Ann Chen conducted during her podium audition with Chicago Sinfonietta. It has become her signature piece with the orchestra and recorded for her first CD release, Delights and Dances.

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Florence Price, Dances in the Canebreaks, mvt. 2, Tropical Noon

Continuing in Maestro Freeman’s legacy, Maestro Mei-Ann Chen has championed providing opportunity for diverse composers to be performed and experienced by diverse audiences. Maestro Chen has been one of the loudest voices in the field promoting the work of Florence Price, the first African American female composer to have one of her pieces performed by a major orchestra. Maestro Chen will include this composition on the celebratory recording for its 30th anniversary, which will include Jessie Montgomery.

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Vivian Fung, Aqua. One movement in a 4-part suite entitled ChiScape, arranged by Jennifer Higdon.

In 2012, Maestro Mei-Ann Chen enlisted the help of composer, Jennifer Higdon, to commission a piece by four emerging composers, inspired by Chicago’s architecture. The piece, later called Chi-Scape, included movements composed by Vivian Fung, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Armando Bayolo, and Christopher Rogers. Vivian’s piece was inspired by the building, Aqua, designed Jeanne Gang. This work demonstrates Maestro Chen’s commitment to commissioning and highlighting new work and contemporary composers.

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