Regular readers of Picture this Post will know that Wilfredo Rivera’s choreography meant to “show what the music looks like” was highly anticipated. (Read the preview – “Chicago Sinfonietta Preview- Wilfredo Rivera to Show What the Music Looks Like”)
As expected, Wilfredo Rivera’s choreography did not disappoint. But this concert marking Chicago Sinfonietta’s 30th Anniversary had so much more in store for us. Aptly named Trademark, the concert pulled out all the stops in typical Sinfonietta fashion, whose predictable trademark, by this writer’s lights, is to exceed expectations.
For starts, there was not one, but two newly commissioned works and both by up and coming women composers. New York native Jessie Montgomery’s Coincident Dances reflected a mélange of sounds and music from Africa to Brazil to techno. Interestingly, the other new work presented that evening by Brazilian-born composer Clarice Assad, Sin Fronteras, also took us on a journey from the tip of South America and through time, but in this case with accompanying choreography from Cerqua Rivera Dance Theater that drew heavily from the various social and folk dancing styles throughout the Americas. (Read Clarice Assad’s comments on her work and this collaboration “Chicago Sinfonietta Commissions CLARICE ASSAD’s SIN FRONTERAS Preview – Insights to Assad and her Work.”)
This was actually choreographer Wilfredo Rivera’s second occasion to perform with Chicago Sinfonietta. He was one of the first collaborators with the orchestra during its earlier years under the baton of its founder, Dr. Freeman, for a work entitled, Four Negro Spirituals.
Chicago Sinfonietta Showcases Unusual Steelband Sounds
Though you go to a Sinfonietta concert expecting something new and unusual, most in the audience probably could not have anticipated the extraordinary man nicknamed The Paganini of Steelpan, Liam Teague, and the NIU Steelband that he directs. If you think of a steel drum’s mesh of melody and percussion as the stuff of calypso you need to expand that notion to Mozart and the like. By the piece’s conclusion, it was difficult to imagine that Mozart wrote his Rondo alla Turca with any instruments other than a steelband with accompanying symphonic orchestra in mind. Then came a work by longtime Sinfonietta Harpist Faye Seeman, Fayed to Blue, growing out of her collaboration with Teague named Pangelic. The last piece played by the joint NIU Steelband and Sinfonietta orchestra was Lord Kitchener’s Pan in A Minor.
To those who have never attended a Chicago Sinfonietta performance it might sound odd to say that the much anticipated intermission had arrived. No, this is not to in any way dis the music. It’s because the Sinfonietta knows how to launch that music into a party – trademarked by recent concerts as having a centerpiece of hands-on fun. This night it was a chance to pluck a harp yourself or ping a steeldrum. For this writer though, it is the chance to soak up the diversity of the audience sharing this party scene, reminding us what Chicago Sinfonietta is about.
The last works performed were a direct homage to Chicago Sinfonietta’s founder, Dr. Freeman, who had also been the conductor of the Czech National Orchestra for over a decade. This work was Smetana’s My Homeland, performed with several innovative tempo changes under the ever- charismatic Mei-Ann Chen’s baton. This 30th Anniversary season of Chicago Sinfonietta continues with four more programs including its annual Day of the Dead inspired concert soon, an homage to Martin Luther King, a continued spotlight on women composers, and the royalty of musical mirth known as Mucca Pazza. For more information visit and bookmark the Chicago Sinfonietta Website.
Photos: Grainger Ballroom intermission photos by Peter Kachergis. All other photos by Chris Ocken.