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