Tuesday, October 13, 2020

SunTimes.com: Chicago Sinfonietta kicks off 33rd season with continued focus on diversity

Blake-Anthony Johnson, the new CEO of the Chicago Sinfonietta, is photographed in June in his office.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-Times

The orchestra is continuing to build on a three-decades history of anti-racism and anti-sexism. At least one-third of its musicians, staff and board are people of color, making it a notable outlier in the orchestral world. 

The virtual concerts are expected to run 50-60 minutes, including introductions to the selections and transitional footage. “I think that might be just right in terms of our virtual audience,” Chen said, pointing to viewers’ more limited on-line attention spans.

While the size of the season has been pared back from five to three programs, the ensemble’s artistic ambitions remain as strong as ever. Each of the 2020-21 concerts will feature a world premiere by an African-American composer. “In this day and age, I can bet you that there are so few orchestras that are actually looking at commissioning, and that’s what make us unique,” Chen said.

The Oct. 17 concert, titled “COMMON GROUND: Collective Stories,” will showcase a new work by Kathryn Bostic, the Sinfonietta’s first-ever artist-in-residence — a two-year position conceived by Johnson. According to him, the post is meant to answer this question: “What does it look like when you have another artistic partner who can really connect some dots to not just what we do onstage but also what we do offstage in a different way?”

Bostic, who is best known for her award-winning work in film, television and theater, is big fan of the Sinfonietta because of its longtime mission to provide a platform for artists typically under-represented in the classical realm.

The ensemble was originally going to perform Bostic’s 2018 symphony written in honor of famed playwright August Wilson. When that became impossible because of Coronavirus constraints, Chen suggested Bostic write a work with the same musical forces used in the Oct. 17 opener: “Fanfare for the Common Man” — 13 players (one doubling bass drum and tam-tam). 

The result is a four-minute work titled “Portrait of a Peaceful Warrior.” “It’s basically my tribute to the common ground we all experience as community,” Bostic said, “coming together especially in this time of chaos and turbulence. I wanted to write something that was hopeful, powerful and celebratory of the human spirit.”

Also featured will be a movement from the String Quartet of G major of Florence Price, who Chen said has become “trademark” composer of the Sinfonietta. 


‘Common Ground: Collective Stories’

Chicago Sinfonietta, Mei-Ann Chen, conductor

When: Streams at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17; will remain on-line for 24 hours

Where: Ticketholders receive an access link via e-mail

Tickets: $45 (complete season: $85)

Info: chicagosinfonietta.org       

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