Chicago Sinfonietta celebrates 36 years of community, innovation, and upcoming tour at 36th gala

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Celebrating Community, Innovation, and the Future

of Classical Music in the 21st century,

Chicago Sinfonietta’s 36th Annual Gala, Soundscape, Offered Thrilling Surprises

Orchestra announces tour to Atlanta, Georgia

Community outreach projects and a special concert part of exciting new relationship being forged between the two cities

Current and future work with technology given a nod with virtual holograms

Standing ovation at gala; Photo by Kyle Flubacker

CHICAGO, IL – Chicago Sinfonietta (CS) marked 36 years of inspirational music making, community building, and its ongoing impact on the classical industry at its annual gala at the Fairmont Millennium Hotel this past weekend. The evening was a remarkable look into the orchestra’s renowned innovative and forward-thinking approach to the art form of classical music, and its continuously expanding work in the field regarding accessibility, diversity and inclusion.

Mei-Ann Chen, Jim Weidner, Mayor Johnson, Genhi Givings Bailey,

 Blake-Anthony Johnson

A major highlight of the evening was the announcement of the Sinfonietta’s first tour to Atlanta, Georgia, as was the Sinfonietta’s demonstration of how it continues to redefine the 21st century orchestra with the use of technology. Virtual holograms, beginning with a welcome from Maestra Mei-Ann Chen in the lobby, another in the cocktail reception, as well as one in the afterparty, entertained as well as linked back to virtual work the Sinfonietta introduced at last season’s closing concert, expanding Sinfonietta’s mission for all-inclusive positive performance experiences, so that residents and visitors worldwide will have the opportunity to experience Chicago Sinfonietta’s signature artistic progressivism in performance.

In announcing the Atlanta tour, titled “Sinfonietta Homecoming Tour: A Celebration of Historically Black Colleges & Universities,” Maestra Chen stated, “As a conductor, I’ve had the privilege of leading this talented ensemble through a myriad of performances that reflect our mission. Now, we are embarking on a new adventure, one that ties our two great cities together. …This is … a cultural exchange, a celebration of shared values. …We bring with us the spirit of inclusivity, unity, and the universal language of music. We look forward to forging new connections, building bridges, and celebrating the power of music to bring people together.”

Chicago Sinfonietta and Maestra Chen will travel to Atlanta, Georgia, for the first time in March 2024, but the organization already has forged several bonds: Founder Paul Freeman met Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Atlanta airport when he was guesting with Atlanta Symphony; Atlanta’s strong ties to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement strongly connects to the uplifting message and resilient spirit of the Sinfonietta’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. concert; early in her career, Maestra Chen served as Assistant Conductor of Atlanta Symphony for two years under one of her mentors, Robert Spano, forming a special bond with the spirit of the city and its people; President & CEO Blake-Anthony Johnson grew up in Atlanta; and lastly, the orchestra has forged relationships with two BIPOC composers from Atlanta – Viet Cuong, whose thrilling work Re(new)al, was performed on Chicago Sinfonietta’s 2023-24 season opening concert, and Joel Thompson, who has had two works championed by the organization – Seven Last Words of the Unarmed in 2020, and the Chicago Sinfonietta commissioned world premiere breathe/burn: an elegy in 2021 – both performed as part of the Sinfonietta’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. concert.


The tour takes place in early March 2024, and Chicago Sinfonietta will partner with Spelman College as its Atlanta base. Community Outreach events and a special performance, to be held at the college’s Sister’s Chapel, will be open to all students at historically Black institutions of higher education such as Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, area schools, and the Atlanta Music Project. Works by historically significant composers, including Chicago Sinfonietta signature works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Florence Price, as well as modern work by the first winner of the Emerging Black Composers Project, Trevor Weston, will be performed.

More details on the March tour will be announced in the near future.


President & Chief Executive Officer Blake-Anthony Johnson, in addressing the full ballroom, stated, “Together, we are not merely an orchestra; we are a community that champions equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging through the powerful symphonic experiences we create. We are well on our way to becoming an orchestra that serves all of Chicago, one that embraces the richness of our diverse community. As we look to the future, our plans are ambitious, our vision is bold, and our determination to remain a cutting-edge leader in the field is unwavering.”

An ensemble of local stars hosted the 36th annual gala, with actress and Second City Alumna Claudia Michelle Wallace serving as Emcee, and Emmy-winning and nominated broadcast journalists Hosea Sanders, Matthew Rodrigues, and Courtney Hall, some of Chicago’s most respected and innovative individuals in their fields, serving as Presenters. James Weidner, CS Board of Directors Chair, Genhi Givings Bailey, CS Board Vice Chair, President & CEO Blake-Anthony Johnson, and Maestra Mei-Ann Chen also spoke.

Peter CottonTale, Mei-Ann Chen, a full ballroom, Claudia Michelle Wallace

Receiving the Sinfonietta’s Legacy Award this year from Chicago Sinfonietta was Maria E. Wynne, Immediate Past President of Leadership Greater Chicago and a true effector of change.

Maria E. Wynne, Hosea Sanders

The announcement was made to a full ballroom that included leaders in the civic, corporate, and government sector, along with Chicago native celebrities. Illinois State Senator Napolean B. Harris III; Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, First Lady Stacie Johnson and family; Chicago Alderman Lamont J. Robinson, 4th Ward; Chicago Alderman William Hall, 6th Ward; Christy MacLear, Perkins Coie; Jenyce Boolton, US Bank; Glenn Eden, Cantata; Billy Dexter, Partner, Americas Regional Diversity Leader, Heidrick & Struggles, Chicago; Douglas Freeman (son of CS founder), President of Global Reflections & Inclusive Leadership Practice, UniWorld Group, Inc.; Torrence Hinton, President, People’s Gas; Jill Wolowitz, Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer, HCSC; Manika M. Turnbull, Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield; Clarita Santos, Executive Director of Community Health Initiatives, Blue Cross and Blue Shield; Joe Gregoire, Financial Services, Wintrust Financial Corporation; Regynald Washington, Chief Executive Officer, RGW Enterprises; Peter Cottontale, musician and producer; were among those who enjoyed the evening.

The 36th Anniversary Ball is supported by the Chicago Sinfonietta Board of Directors: James Weidner, WaveMaker 360, and Chicago Sinfonietta (CS) Board Chair; Genhi Givings Bailey, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Perkins Coie LLP, and CS Board Vice Chair; Felicia Gerber Perlman, Partner, McDermott Will & Emery, LLP, Co-Chair, Development Committee, and CS Board Treasurer; Althea Alviar Lee, Vice President, Talent, Methode Electronics, Inc., and CS Board Secretary; Eva Andalcio, Wynndalco; Anne Barlow, Co-Founder, KV 265; Darwin F. Brown, Senior Vice President, and Wealth Strategies Advisor, Bank Of America Private Bank, Chicago; Rosalyn Carpenter; Senior Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion, CommonSpirit Health; T. Robertson Carter, Civic Leader;  Paul Dilda, Head of Retail Strategy, Products and Segments, BMO Harris Bank; Melissa B. Donaldson, Senior VP & Chief Diversity Officer, Wintrust Financial Corporation; Douglas Freeman, President of Global Reflections & Inclusive Leadership Practice, UniWorld Group, Inc.; Scott Hoesman, CEO and Founder, inQuest Consulting; Joyce Johnson-Miller, Chairperson & Chief Investment Officer, Pacific Gate Capital; Michael Kohnen, SVP, Commercial Banking; U.S. Bank; Alviar Lee, Vice President, Talent, Methode Electronics, Inc.; Wendy Lewis; Wendy Lewis, LLS; Jessica Litwin, Vice President, Healthcare Investment Banking, William Blair; Sanchit Madan, Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers; Dr. Ebbie Parsons, III, Managing Partner, Yardstick Management; Felicia Gerber Perlman, Partner, McDermott Will & Emery; Clarita Santos, Executive Director, Corporate & Civic Partnerships, Health Care Service Corps; Joseph Schneider, Plant Manager, Illinois Tool Works; Regynald Washington, Chief Executive Officer, RGW Enterprises; Allyson Wynn; Founder & CEO, The Wynning Experience.

Spelman College, founded in 1881, today is a global leader in the education of women of African descent. It will host Chicago Sinfonietta’s first concert outside of Chicagoland in the 21st century at its Sister’s Chapel, a significant venue that “embodies a historic and contemporary spirituality of resistance and resilience that encourages women across the world to stand in solidarity with each other on behalf of equality and justice.”


A tenured orchestra and acclaimed cultural leader that champions diversity, equity, and inclusion by creating community through curated symphonic experiences, Chicago Sinfonietta is a source of community through music, ensuring and inspiring a continued investment in

diversity and inclusivity in the genre of classical music to promote fairness and equity. Recognized as ground-breaking, dynamic and daring, with core values built around being culturally responsive and advocates of inclusivity in all aspects of the 36-year-old organization’s work, Chicago Sinfonietta’s unrelenting commitment to being at the forefront of innovation drives its high standard of symphonic experiences. CS takes pride in leading by example with immersive audience engagement activities, impactful career development, education, and extensive community outreach programs.

Chicago Sinfonietta’s second subscription performance of the 2023-24 season, DEPTH, featuring Mexican guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto takes place November 4 (Wentz Concert Hall, Naperville) and November 5 (Auditorium Theatre, Chicago). An exploration of the intriguing complexities of the human experience and a celebration of Latin music, the evening includes works by three Mexican composers, including the Chicago Premiere of Juan Pablo Contreras’ Mariachitlán. Details on Chicago Sinfonietta’s full 36th season can be found at

Soundscape Gala Sponsors

Soundscape Reception Sponsor

Link to Soundscape photos by Kyle Flubacher here.

Link to Education & Community Programs video here.

Link to March 2024 Homecoming Tour video here.

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