Chicago Music Review: 2017 MARTIN LUTHER KING TRIBUTE CONCERT (Chicago Sinfonietta)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 17, 2017

in Music,Theater-Chicago


Chicago Sinfonietta’s annual concert to commemorate Martin Luther King—now in its fourth decade—held more relevance and righteousness than usual, occurring as it is during 2017’s Inauguration Week. As music director Mei-Ann Chen says, “It takes a village to raise an orchestra.” It also takes an orchestra to raise an audience—to an intensity of devotion that only music makes palpable in notes and in ears.

Celebrating intergenerational diversity, this year’s concerts included suburban presentations at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts and Naperville’s Wentz Concert Hall. The tributes culminated at Chicago’s famed Orchestra Hall in a well-received program of disparate but open-hearted offerings. In the spirit of the occasion, they marked Dr. King’s once and future “dream” by showcasing young talents from Roosevelt University Conservatory Choir, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, The People’s Music School, Merit School of Music, and Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. As our young artists played with established Sinfonietta members, we could hear the future in every bar.

Specifically, we were enthralled by Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Opening the two-hour concert, this serene and sustaining work for strings from 1910 conveys an urgency in its undercurrents to keep it from excessive calm or complacency, as if echoing the Renaissance roots of its source.

After a spoken-word presentation by young poet E’mon Lauren, Chen launched into Antonio Vivaldi’s complex and driving Concerto for 4 Violins and Cello, a powerful piece that blends virtuosity with harmony as if to contrast and reconcile opposing forces. Featuring young violin soloists Maria Arrua, Tara Lynn Ramsey, Tomer Marcus and Teddy Wiggins, this work from 1711 fully earned its place in 2017.

Another promising debut was the appearance of featured guest conductor Kalena Bovell leading the ensemble in two of Anton Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances from Opus 46 and 72. The 2016-2017 Chicago Sinfonietta Assistant Conductor powered the concert hall with the first composition’s courtly “dumka” dance and the latter’s lively “kolo.”

The evening’s final, perfectly right, present to Dr. King (though presented out of context) was the choral finale from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. This monumental feat of music featured the Roosevelt University Conservatory Choir led by Cheryl Hill Frazes and soloists Nicholas Davis, Jared Esqurerra, Kimberly Gunderson and Louise Rogan. Set to Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” this all-embracing tour-de-force raises solidarity and unity to their literally highest pitch. With the inevitability that Leonard Bernstein cherished in Beethoven’s every cadence, the master’s final gift to the world soars into the sublime. Creating an imperishable standard for greatness, it ends with an ecstatic and accelerating outburst of sheer euphoria and almost cosmic concord.

After climbing this peak, the program could only end with the quiet affirmation of a hand-holding audience singing “We Shall Overcome”—and clearly not as lip service. This concert confirmed a myriad of commitments, musical and more.

photos by Chris Ocken

Annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Chicago Sinfonietta
Orchestra Hall of Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan
reviewed Monday, January 16, 2017
also played January 14 (Skokie) and 15 (Naperville)
for more info, call 312.284.1559 or visit Chicago Sinfonietta

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