The Chicago Sinfonietta titles its concerts – Rightness in the Rhythm, which the ensemble played last night at Symphony Center, was the finale of the 2016-2017 season. Teacher subs in, and when she does she can sometimes offer tickets – the last time I saw them was for their Halloween 2016 Dia de los Muertos show, a perennial performance by the group formed in the 1980s to inject some diversity into Chicago’s symphonic music scene.
Last night’s show was all about symphonic Jazz. Copland, Gershwin, Bernstein, and a contemporary composition of variations of Swing Low Sweet Chariot by Michael Abels. Conductor Mei-Ann Chen was relentless in her adoration of the soloists that punctuated the pieces – after each number all who had anything close to a moment in the spotlight were called out to stand and receive their applause. Indeed, there was much shining – from the trumpets in Joplin’s Treemonisha to the timpanis in Bernstein’s On the Town, virtuosity was in the air.
For Gershwin’s famed Rhapsody in Blue, the Sinfonietta was joined by the phenomenal Marcus Roberts Trio. Roberts brought an improvisational style to the piece’s prodigious piano parts, in moods ranging from Liberace to a smoke-filled jazz club. Trio-mates Jason Marsalis on drums and Rodney Jordon on string bass were also phenomenal. The program notes capture the essence of the group’s chemistry, their ability to “share equally in shaping the direction of the music by changing its tempo, mood, texture, or form at any time. And they do this with lightning quick musical reflexes and creative imaginations.” The trio finished out the show with an encore version of I’ve got Rhythm.
One way the Sinfonietta fulfills its mission to diversify the arts is through Project Inclusion, a program that pairs budding young professionals in the field with seasoned symphony talent. They do so with fellowships to play, conduct, and administer the symphony. One treat last night was in seeing Deanna Tham make her Symphony Center conducting debut on the program’s first piece – Copland’s Treemonisha. Those and Sinfonietta’s other educational efforts in 2016 earned the group a MacArthur Foundation award for creative and effective institutions, the “Genius Grant” for Not-for-profits.
Michael and I sure enjoyed the show.
Thanks for reading.