Anthony McGill, principal clarinet for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (2009 publicity shot)
◆ 3 p.m. Sunday, Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago, Naperville; tickets, $40-$50
◆ 7:30 p.m. Monday, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; tickets, $26-$50
◆ (312) 236-3681;
Updated: February 17, 2013 6:10AM
One of the hallmarks of the Chicago Sinfonietta, acclaimed for its mission of “diversity, inclusion and innovation,” is its annual tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
That tradition continues Sunday at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and Monday at Symphony Center, when the Sinfonietta honors the civil rights leader with a varied program marrying two 20th-century mainstays with music of African and African-American lineage.
“Dr. King’s tribute is really about honoring a legacy of bridging cultures and generations and bringing people together,” said Mei-Ann Chen, who is in her second season as the Sinfonietta’s music director. “That’s exactly what the Sinfonietta’s mission has been about, so it makes sense for us to continue to champion this wonderful tribute.”
Joining the orchestra will be two nationally known guest soloists — bass-baritone Eric Owens and Anthony McGill, principal clarinet for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York City.
McGill, 33, grew up Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood and attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School until he transferred before 10th grade to the Interlochen (Mich.) Arts Academy, a boarding school for gifted musical students. He performed alongside cellist Yo-Yo Ma and two other classical stars as part of President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration in a work composed by John Williams for the occasion.
“It definitely was an amazing boost to my career — just something, obviously, I will cherish for the rest of my life,” McGill said.
He will join the Sinfonietta in Aaron Copland’s Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, a popular work commissioned by famed clarinetist Benny Goodman and first performed in 1950.
The two concerts will be McGill’s first appearances with the Chicago orchestra, and many of his family and friends are planning to attend. “Everybody is going to be coming out for it, so that will be fun,” he said.
Best known as a star of the opera world, Owens, 42, will unveil another aspect of his musical abilities: conducting. Making his professional podium debut, he will lead the Sinfonietta in a performance of Samuel Barber’s familiar “Adagio for Strings.” He also will sing “I’m a Soldier,” a spiritual suite arranged by gospel authority Lena McLin.
“Very few people know that one of his hidden talents is being a conductor,” Chen said, “and he has incredible talent for it.”
Other program highlights include Aurora’s Waubonsie Valley High School Mosaic Choir performing a collection of African-American spirituals and African songs, and “The Oak,” a folk-influenced tone poem by underappreciated African-American composer Florence Price, who spent much of her life in Chicago and died here in 1953.
Following custom, the concert will end with the audience standing and singing along to “We Shall Overcome,” an anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement.
“It might sound like a simple idea,” Chen said, “but every time we get to that moment in the concert, what happens is always beyond words for me. We ask the audience to stand up. They may not know who is sitting next to them, and we ask them to hold hands together and we ask them to sway from one side to another. And it’s always this warm and fuzzy feeling that is very, very rare in a classical concert, where you feel ready to embrace all the strangers in the hall.
“It doesn’t matter what background they come from — what nationality, their gender or cultural differences. It does not matter anymore because, using music, we have crossed every kind of barrier to bring everybody together.”
Kyle MacMillan is a locally based free-lance writer.