Chicago Sinfonietta honors Martin Luther King, Jr. with its annual tribute concert

  • Chicago Sinfonietta's annual MLK Tribute concert program will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 20 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, January 21 at Symphony Center in Chicago.Courtesy of Chicago Sinfonietta

    Chicago Sinfonietta's annual MLK Tribute concert program will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 20 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, January 21 at Symphony Center in Chicago.Courtesy of Chicago Sinfonietta

Natalia Dagenhart

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is 'What are you doing for others?'" declared Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957. For Chicago Sinfonietta, the answer is clear -- to make every member of our community feel comfortable and included and to connect people through classical music. The beauty of classical music will save this world that is full of controversy, injustice and bias. Chicago Sinfonietta breaks all barriers, and its annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a great example of honoring equal rights for everyone.

This MacArthur award-winning orchestra will present its annual MLK Tribute concert program at 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 20 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, January 21 at Symphony Center in Chicago.

Since its inception in 1987, Chicago Sinfonietta has been presenting its annual concert to celebrate the birth and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Founded by Maestro Paul Freeman, Chicago Sinfonietta has always been a defiantly different kind of orchestra that has managed to change the whole concept of producing, delivering and perceiving classical music. Chicago Sinfonietta became a great example by eliminating the utter lack of diversity in orchestras and constantly widening the variety of its audiences. The orchestra has changed the face of Chicago's classical music, and now it is vibrant, diverse and inclusive.

This year, Chicago Sinfonietta's signature annual MLK Tribute concert will feature the conducting talents of Chicago Sinfonietta Assistant Conductor Kedrick Armstrong and Charleston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor Kellen Gray, both graduates of the Chicago Sinfonietta's industry-leading Project Inclusion professional development program. It will also feature talented violinist Kyle Dickson, who is a Project Inclusion Orchestral Fellow, spoken-word and voiceover artist Kenneth Woods, and the charismatic Waubonsie Valley Mosaic Choir.

In collaboration with Chicago Sinfonietta's Music Director and Conductor Mei-Ann Chen, Armstrong and Gray carefully selected every piece for this concert program. These talented conductors are happy to step in for Maestro Chen and demonstrate their unique angle and understanding of the music that is going to be performed.

"The concert program takes the audience on an emotional journey through music. The performance flows with spoken word recitations between pieces until intermission, which creates an enthralling and dynamic experience," said Gray. "In hand with the musicians, Chicago Sinfonietta does what no other orchestra does in broadening the spectrum of what is expected and encouraged in the concert hall."

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A big part of the orchestra's success in discovering and supporting young extraordinary talents is its Project Inclusion fellowship program. Armstrong, Gray and Dickson are thankful for the intense experience and recognition that they received through this program, which was originally created by Maestro Freeman to help eliminate institutional bias due to factors such as ethnicity, race, and socioeconomic status.

"Being part of Chicago Sinfonietta's Project Inclusion program during the 2016-2017 season with Kellen changed my life and gave me an opportunity to get my foot in the classical music industry's door," said Armstrong. "Being able to work together to lead this program has been humbling and an organic process, because the legacy of Dr. King is something both Kellen and I are directly impacted by. We both grew up in South Carolina and have similar backgrounds and experiences growing up in the Deep South, which gives us each a unique perspective and reason to celebrate how far we have come and how far we have to go as a society. We are looking for the audience to leave with an uplifting sense of legacy and to celebrate the ways that diverse musicians continue to fight for inclusion."

The concert will start with extremely intense and dramatically challenging "Egmont Overture," Op. 84 by Ludwig van Beethoven. This Opus is a set of incidental music pieces based on the 1787 play of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. "Egmont Overture" is famous all over the world, as in just eight minutes it demonstrates the whole spectrum of human moods and emotions. Its main idea is the struggle for freedom, just as in Goethe's play. Beethoven's talent shines in this piece, and Chicago Sinfonietta will find the best way to demonstrate it.

It will be followed by an emotionally deep and sincere piece called "Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed" written by acclaimed African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork. The author composed this work in 1978 and dedicated it to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is known that Hailstork has called this work "a funeral piece." Being an educator, choral conductor, pianist and composer, Hailstork wrote this short, but powerful piece to reflect the mourning at the graveside service of Dr. King.


A composition written by unique African-American composer, Trevor Weston, will continue the concert program. It is called "The People Could Fly" and is based on the popular American folktale. "The image of enslaved magical Africans leaving plantations in the US and flying back to Africa is an impressive vision and commentary on groups of people literally transcending oppression," wrote the composer in the program notes for this composition that was written in 2004. This piece will feature solo violinist Kyle Dickson, an extremely talented musician.

Dickson will be also featured in Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Petite Suite de Concert, Op.77, in Sir Michael Tippett's "Five Negro Spirituals" from "A child of our time" and in James Lee III's "Come Unto Me." The Waubansie High School Mosaic Choir will also join the orchestra and Dickson for "Five Negro Spirituals" and "Come Unto Me," with an additional performance of "We Shall Overcome," a song that already has become traditional for Chicago Sinfonietta's MLK Tribute concerts, when the audience members stand up, hold hands and sing along.

This concert program will be powerful not only because of the music that is going to be performed, but also because of a continued spoken word performance of Dr. King's most important speeches that will be interlaced with the musical components of the program. They will be presented by acclaimed spoken-word and voiceover artist Kenneth Woods who will make his return to the stage with the Chicago Sinfonietta. His presentation of the "I Have a Dream" speech has been heard around the world both with and without musical accompaniment.

"What truly moves me about Dr. King's speeches is how the words are resonant and relative in the times in which we live," said Woods. "Every time I recite the words, I am overcome with a profound revelation of the man and the passion and compassion of his spirit. It is an honor to perform alongside the Chicago Sinfonietta and the musicians who work each and every day to help realize a more diverse, inclusive, and equal world for everyone."


It is a great honor for Chicago to have such a great orchestra as Chicago Sinfonietta that remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. in such a respectful and sincere manner. As always, the orchestra's MLK Tribute annual concert will be unforgettable for the musicians as well as for the Chicago Sinfonietta's audiences.

Attend Chicago Sinfonietta's Tribute to Dr. King and immerse in the musical waves of strength, spirit, love and compassion. For tickets and information, please go to or call 312-284-1554. Tickets range from $10 to $75.

Natalia Dagenhart

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