Monday evening, September 26, the Chicago Sinfonietta performed its opening concert of the 2011-12 season, titled As Fate Would Have It, at Symphony Center with its new Music Director, Mei-Ann Chen. If Monday’s concert was any indication, the Sinfonietta – and Chicago – can look forward to an exciting time during Maestro Chen’s tenure.
Paul Freeman, co-founder of Chicago Sinfonietta, the nation’s most diverse orchestra, retired at the end of last season after a long and illustrious career as the Music Director and nurturer of Chicago Sinfonietta. Now, Mr. Freeman can enjoy his well-deserved retirement, knowing that he left his creation in very good hands.
Ms. Chen may be a tiny woman in stature, but she is a virtual powerhouse of energy and passion. Her love for the music and her job is clearly evident, and she easily draws the audience into her passion.
She has an infectious personality that comes through the music and to the audience. She has obvious respect for the musicians, whom she constantly includes in all accolades. She also likes to hug, which seems in keeping with her personality. She charmed the audience, and it appears that she has won over the musicians, which is no easy feat considering who she is following.
The concert started with a nice surprise for the audience. Opening with a newly commissioned arrangement of “My Kind of Town” (arranged for orchestra, marching band, and children’s choir by Joe Clark), the audience was treated to a surprise instrumental and vocal rendition by the Kennedy-King Marching Band and the Anima Singers of Greater Chicago.
Near the beginning of the concert, Ms. Chen took a few minutes to talk to the audience, during which time she reminisced about being a young girl of 10 playing the violin in an orchestra and dreaming about one day standing at the conductor’s podium. She shared with the audience her emotions at the farewell concert last season when the baton was passed from the retiring founder to herself and concluded by saying, “I’m simply living a dream.”
The remainder of the concert was, in Maestro Chen’s words, a “signature Sinfonietta concert:” a combination of the Old Masters (which she called the “meat and potatoes” of the classical repertory) and newer pieces representing a more diverse group of composers.
The audience heard Saibei Dance by An-Lun Huang (the first piece Ms. Chen heard the Chicago Sinfonietta perform), the Chicago premiere of On Willows and Birches, Concerto for Harp by John Williams (composed in 2009 for the evening’s guest artist, Ann Hobson Pilot), Ennanga for Harp, Piano, and String Orchestra, and ending with a majestic rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor.
Another highlight of the evening was the opportunity to hear Ann Hobson Pilot, retired principal harpist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, perform. Ms. Pilot spent 40 years with the BSO before retiring in 2009. It was a pleasure to watch a master, who has perfected her craft over so many years, bring her instrument to life and conform it to her desires. Her hands effortlessly glided over the strings and made them sing. At times, she caressed the strings; at other times, she commanded them, but always, she was in perfect harmony with her instrument.
When the concert ended with a standing ovation, there was a sense in the air that the audience wasn’t ready to leave, so Maestro Chen, Ann Hobson Pilot, and the Chicago Sinfonietta treated the audience to an encore with Formosa, a piece written to convey the peaceful countryside of Taiwan, but which brings to mind for Ms Chen images of global peace whenever she hears it, which is in keeping with her expressed desire to embrace global diversity during her time with the Chicago Sinfonietta.
All in all, the inaugural concert of the Chicago Sinfonietta’s 2011-12 season and Mei-Ann Chen’s tenure as Music Director was an inspiring and moving experience.
You can learn more about Chicago Sinfonietta or get information about upcoming concerts at the Chicago Sinfonietta website.
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