If election polls and air waves full of divisiveness have been setting you back, Chicago Sinfonietta has an answer.
On Monday evening, September 19, 2016, glittering Symphony Center once again became the home of Chicago Sinfonietta. It seemed as if the walls of this great hall sighed in relief. This was a chance to forget the airwaves’ clog with racist code words. This orchestra is the epitome of diversity – from orchestra members to audience to repertoire. Best, they drown out the right-wing drone with beautiful music. This is fresh, fresh air.
Chicago Sinfonietta Performs Varied Program
The evening’s performance included: Glinka’s “Russian and Ludmilla: Overture”; Stravinksy’s “Petrushka”; Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”; Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” Variations; Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor; and a finale of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida”.
Charismatic conductor Mei-Ann Chen was at the helm. Chen seems to have nourished ever higher standards of performance from her corps. From the very notes of Glinka’s overture, it was clear they were rehearsed and tight. It continued that way for almost the entire evening, except at one point when the brass section severely stumbled.
With her honeyed mellifluous voice and approachable ways, Chen also taught us about the works we were hearing. Distilling the four-part Petrushka into a pithy synopsis, she advised us to listen to the drummers’ cues of changing movements and to especially watch for the unusual way in which the tambourine was played. That was a time for smiles all around We watched the percussionist with great dignity move to the front of the orchestra, and then, at the score-designated time, ceremoniously let his instrument drop from his hands to the floor. He then lingered over the tambourine as if it was a felled critter.
Juilliard Stars on Stage Too
There was also a lot of Juilliard juice on the stage.
Two Juilliard graduates—Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe—combined their four hands on sometimes one and sometimes two pianos. First they played the orchestra in the Petrushka ballet score.
Then, after playfully assuring the audience that their deconstruction wouldn’t harm Michael Jackson’s music, they took us on a journey that seemed to stretch the score to every corner of the room, and then neatly fold it back in place.
Poulenc- -Highlight of the Evening
For this reviewer it was Chicago Sinfonietta joining forces with Anderson & Roe to perform Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos” that especially made the night. At times sounding like a silent movie soundtrack marking an ominous moment, then a melt into pure gentle, followed by a break into prancing, and more, this is layered and textured music that invites a replay and then another. (You can find it on Youtube.)
Watching Anderson & Roe combine their four hands is a visual treat as well as one for the ears. This was especially the case in their interpretation of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” theme. They are playful and flirtatious, sometimes suggesting that they are going to steal kisses or tickles on the piano bench they share.
The Chicago Sinfonietta’s Day of the Dead concert is next in their season. You can get tickets now and also find out more about this 2016/17 season by visiting the Chicago Sinfonietta website .
All Unhinged Sinfonietta concert photography by Chris Ocken.
All Anderson & Roe promotional photography outside of the concert hall by Lisa Marie Mazzucco
All Clayton Stephenson photos courtesy of Clayton Stephenson