Chicago Sinfonietta music director Mei Ann Chen takes a bow with the orchestra (photo courtesy of Chicago Sinfonietta).
Chicago Sinfonietta Set to Present Annual MLK Tribute Concert
Leading the nation in programming works by women and diverse, under-represented composers, Chicago Sinfonietta, the nation’s most diverse orchestra, presents its annual MLK Tribute Concert, celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through family, equity and the encouragement to execute positive change this winter. Featuring several special guests, including Project Inclusion alumnus and current Chicago Sinfonietta Assistant Conductor Jonathan Rush, vocalist and semi-finalist on NBC’s The Voice Kymberli Joye, and singers from three Chicagoland choruses, Chicago Sinfonietta is unveiling several firsts at the concert. Highlights will include Rush and Joye’s professional collaborative debut during Patty Griffin’s Up to the Mountain and the Chicago premiere of Joel Thompson’s The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, allowing listeners to experience a sweeping, musical journey meant to drive poignant conversation and change in society.
Under the direction of guest conductor Jonathan Rush, Chicago Sinfonietta’s MLK Tribute Concert will open with Patty Griffin’s Up to the Mountain, a piece inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final words of his last public speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Solo vocals from Kymberli Joye will soar during this piece as she shares the stage with Rush, her younger brother. Up to the Mountain begins this concert journey on a hopeful, aspirational note, setting the tone for the works to come. Both Rush and Joye bring a distinct, youthful voice to this work, and their family connection and music history will imbue the performance with additional meaning and context.
“As the guest conductor for this concert, it is thrilling to perform and collaborate with my sister for the first time in a professional capacity,” said Rush. “I feel this brings a whole new level and layer to Griffin’s work. The message Up to the Mountain displays on the stage is a clear representation of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would want for society. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described in his speech, sometimes people look over the mountain and they are afraid they might fall, but there are ways to move forward and progress. This performance is the most humane call for brotherhood and sisterhood.”
Participating in her first solo performance with an orchestra and first-ever concert with Chicago Sinfonietta, Kymberli Joye adds, “Up to the Mountain gives Chicago Sinfonietta listeners the opportunity to come together and hope for better in our community. It provides a solemn work of art that can be seen as a joyful reflection. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. might not have been able to see the promised land, but we are lucky enough to have the freedom to continue to work toward actionable change.”
The first half of the concert continues with the traditional spiritual Deep River conducted by Chicago Sinfonietta music director Mei-Ann Chen. Deep River is followed by the Chicago premiere of Joel Thompson’s moving testament to those lost to police violence, The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. Directly after, audience members will experience the beautiful Academy Award-winning piece by John Legend and Common from the film Selma, Glory. Both works will be performed with the orchestra by the Adrian Dunn Singers.
“After being troubled by the onslaught of killings of unarmed black men, The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed was a personal way to process my emotions and I did not originally write the piece intending for it to be heard,” said composer Joel Thompson. “However, the death of Freddie Gray pushed me to bring this piece to life. Since its world premiere in 2015, I am proud that it has been a source of much conversation and inspiration for listeners. Having it programmed within a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tribute concert further emphasizes to audience members and the world that we still need to make changes within our society. It is tragically unfortunate that this piece is so relevant and that we have so much to understand and implement to reach Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision, but we can still work toward a more equal and kind world.”
As the final, devastating notes of The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed are performed, the orchestra and choir will transition seamlessly into Glory, thereby completing the emotional journey from hope to sadness and back again. The second half of Chicago Sinfonietta’s MLK Tribute Concert will feature the final movement of one of Gustav Mahler’s most popular and successful works during his lifetime, Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection Symphony). Featuring the voices of the North Central College Concert Choir and Roosevelt University Conservatory Chorus, with soloists Leah Dexter (mezzo-soprano) and Summer Hassan (soprano), the collective group will tell a beautiful story of life to end the concert with feelings of hope.
"The Chicago Sinfonietta has grand plans for this season’s MLK Tribute concert with five potent works, three singers, three choirs and one symphony premiere,” said Mei-Ann Chen, music director of Chicago Sinfonietta. “In this annual remembrance of a champion of civil rights and the important social issues of today, we present an unforgettable program covering an enormous range of emotions conveyed through the widest spectrum of sonic experiences. We are especially thrilled to present the Chicago premiere Joel Thompson’s powerful Seven Last Words of the Unarmed and in another Sinfonietta first, welcome three choruses (The Adrian Dunn Singers, North Central College Concert Choir, and the Roosevelt University Conservatory Chorus) to join the orchestra onstage as we close the concert raising our voices for a better tomorrow!”
Since its inception, diversity, inclusion and bold and dynamic programming have been at the center of Chicago Sinfonietta’s mission. In 2016, Chicago Sinfonietta was one of just 14 organizations in the nation to receive the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions – the “genius award” for nonprofit organizations. The Sinfonietta was also selected in 2016 by the Chicago Innovation Awards in recognition of its innovative approach to programming. Prior to that, Chicago Sinfonietta was named by ASCAP as the recipient of the 2011-12 Award for Adventurous Programming and in 2013 was dubbed, “the city’s hippest orchestra” by the Chicago Tribune, always embracing the daring programming that has been part of its history.
Chicago Sinfonietta expressed gratitude to its lead concert sponsor Exelon and supporting sponsors Wintrust and Molex in a release announcing the concert.
Tickets to Chicago Sinfonietta’s MLK Tribute Concert range from $10 to $62 when purchased in advance online. For tickets or more information, please visit www.chicagosinfonietta.org.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts