Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Chicago Tribune: Chicago Sinfonietta: James P. Johnson's "Drums - A Symphonic Poem"

James P. Johnson

The Chicago Tribune

By Howard Reich

September 25, 2018

Immigrants built this country, and if you don’t believe it, you weren’t at the opening of the Chicago Sinfonietta’s 31st season Monday night in Orchestra Hall.

This intrepid organization , which continuously redefines what a symphonic concert can be, on this evening explored “ID: Images of Diversity.” Meaning that every work on the program represented a distinct cultural tradition, all of which – like the ethnicities they represented – found a home in America.


At the end, the actors delivered the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, including the immortal line: “Give me your tired, your poor….”

With the orchestra stirring in the background and an image of the statue on the screen, you had to be fairly hard-hearted not to be moved.

But that wasn’t the evening’s only homage to cultural diversity.

How often, after all, does a symphonic concert present orchestral work by the great jazz/stride pianist James P. Johnson? Not often enough, a situation addressed when Chen led the orchestra in Johnson’s “Drums – A Symphonic Poem.” The piece paired Roaring ’20s rhythms with European symphonic instrumentation, its exultant finale ranking among the composer’s most compelling work.

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