The Chicago Sinfonietta hosted a stellar Martin Luther King Jr. tribute concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra On Monday, Jan. 18 Music director Mei-Ann Chen was brilliant as she conducted the Sinfonietta with her signature charismatic style. The show opened with the Apostolic Church of God Sanctuary choir joining the Sinfonietta to perform a Richard Smallwood selection, “Anthem of God.” It was quite entertaining to see the organized chaos of directors Mei-Ann Chen (Sinfonietta) and Brian Rice (Apostolic Church of God), one standing in front of the other, summoning the energy of their respective performers as the song grew to a crescendo.
The highlight of the concert was the performance of Grammy Award-winning bassist Victor Wooten playing alongside the Sinfonietta. Being named one of Rolling Stone’s top 10 greatest bass players of all time carries with it a heavy burden. Wooten displayed exactly why he earned that accolade in an absolutely mesmerizing performance that included a piece by Conni Ellisor, among other selections. Wooten owned the bass — flipping it with one hand, playing it with a bow, plucking it, slapping it, and playing with one hand while using the other to select “I Have A Dream” sound bites from his computer.
During the intermission, I visited a small exhibition on the second floor, where rare pictures of Dr. King in Chicago were coupled with Perspectives Charter School students holding signs symbolizing aspects of the Civil Rights Movement.
The second half of the concert featured more selections by the Apostolic Church of God, led at times by Willeta Green-Johnson, Brian Rice, and vocalist Jolande Freeman. The final selection was a moving cover of John Legend’s “Glory” by vocalist Travis A. Newsome, and spoken word artist Tony Briscoe. Before the program closed, however, Chen had one final surprise for the audience. Following a brief history lesson on Sinfonietta founder Paul Freeman’s dream to create what is now the nation’s most diverse orchestra, she instructed the entire audience to hold hands and sing “We Shall Overcome” with the Sinfonietta and Apostolic Church of God choir.
I bragged to my fiancé on the way home that I was now a part of Mei-Ann Chen’s mass choir. Among the mass choir I spotted Exelon’s Dana Bolton, N’Digo’s Hermene Hartman, art appraiser Diane Carr, and the Hyatt Coporation’s Tyrone Stoudemire. I’m sure both Dr. King and Maestro Paul Freeman were proud.