Chicago Sinfonietta honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in two tribute concerts

  • Chicago Sinfonietta's annual MLK concerts will take place at 3 p.m. on Sun., Jan. 19 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and at 7:30 p.m. on Mon., Jan. 20 at Symphony Center in Chicago.

    Chicago Sinfonietta's annual MLK concerts will take place at 3 p.m. on Sun., Jan. 19 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and at 7:30 p.m. on Mon., Jan. 20 at Symphony Center in Chicago. Courtesy of Chicago Sinfonietta

Natalia Dagenhart
Updated 1/15/2020 4:31 PM

"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant," said Martin Luther King, Jr. The legacy of this great man is impossible to overestimate, and Chicago Sinfonietta, the nation's most diverse orchestra, is proud to give tribute to Dr. King by presenting annual concerts in his honor.

Chicago Sinfonietta's annual MLK tribute concerts will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 19 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, January 20 at Symphony Center in Chicago.


Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired millions of people around the globe to fight for their rights in a peaceful, intelligent and fair way. Being Baptist minister and social activist, he led the civil rights movement in the United States from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968. "Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase," he said once. This is still relevant and true today, and the voice of Dr. King resonates in the hearts of those who want this world to be more just, faithful, and friendly. Chicago Sinfonietta, an orchestra that consists of musicians of different nationalities, races, ages, genders and with different backgrounds, is happy to build its concert programs based on Dr. King's legacy.

This year, Chicago Sinfonietta's MLK tribute concert will bring to the stage a great number of outgoing and devoted musicians who will perform powerful and unforgettable music. Among them, Project Inclusion alumnus and current Chicago Sinfonietta Assistant Conductor Jonathan Rush, vocalist and semi-finalist on NBC's "The Voice" Kymberli Joye, Project Inclusion Freeman Conducting Fellow Alumnus Kedrick Armstrong, The Adrian Dunn Singers, Mezzo-soprano Leah Dexter, Soprano Summer Hassan, the North Central College Concert Choir, and the Roosevelt University Conservatory Chorus. Of course, the charisma and the extreme energy of Chicago Sinfonietta's Music Director Mei-Ann Chen will make this concert program a powerful and unforgettable event for every audience member.

"The Chicago Sinfonietta has grand plans for this season's MLK Tribute concert with five potent works, three singers, three choirs and one symphony premiere," said Mei-Ann Chen. "In this annual remembrance of a champion of civil rights and the important social issues of today, we present an unforgettable program covering an enormous range of emotions conveyed through the widest spectrum of sonic experiences."

Guest Conductor Jonathan Rush will open Chicago Sinfonietta's MLK Tribute Concert with a song called "Up to the Mountain" written by American singer-songwriter Patty Griffin and arranged by Michelle Isaac and Jherrard Hardeman. This piece was inspired by the final words of Dr. Martin Luther King's last public speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," which he delivered in 1968 on the day before he was assassinated at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. Solo vocals from Kymberli Joye will soar during this piece as she shares the stage with Maestro Rush, her younger brother. Their touching musical conversation will set the tone for the entire concert. Both Rush and Joye bring a distinct, youthful voice to this work, and their family connection makes this collaboration even more sincere and meaningful.

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"As the guest conductor for this concert, it is thrilling to perform and collaborate with my sister for the first time in a professional capacity," said Rush. "I feel this brings a whole new level and layer to Griffin's work. The message 'Up to the Mountain' displays on the stage is a clear representation of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would want for society. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described in his speech, sometimes people look over the mountain and they are afraid they might fall, but there are ways to move forward and progress."

It will be Joye's first solo performance with an orchestra and first-ever concert with Chicago Sinfonietta. "Up to the Mountain gives Chicago Sinfonietta listeners the opportunity to come together and hope for better in our community," she said. "It provides a solemn work of art that can be seen as a joyful reflection. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might not have been able to see the Promised Land, but we are lucky enough to have the freedom to continue to work toward actionable change."

The first half of the concert will continue with a timeless African-American traditional spiritual "Deep River" arranged by Carrie Lane Gruselle and conducted by Maestro Chen. The long phrases, rich tone and purity of intonation of this piece will touch the heart of every audience member.

"Deep River" will be followed by the Chicago premiere of a work called "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" written by an Atlanta composer, pianist, conductor, and educator Joel Thompson. This composition is a moving testament to those lost to police violence.


"After being troubled by the onslaught of killings of unarmed black men, The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed was a personal way to process my emotions and I did not originally write the piece intending for it to be heard," said composer Joel Thompson. "However, the death of Freddie Gray pushed me to bring this piece to life. Since its world premiere in 2015, I am proud that it has been a source of much conversation and inspiration for listeners. Having it programmed within a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute concert further emphasizes to audience members and the world that we still need to make changes within our society. It is tragically unfortunate that this piece is so relevant and that we have so much to understand and implement to reach Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vision, but we can still work toward a more equal and kind world."

Directly after that powerful composition, audience members will experience the beautiful Academy Award-winning piece called "Glory" from the film "Selma" written by American rapper Common and American singer John Legend. Both compositions, "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" and "Glory," will be performed with the orchestra by the Adrian Dunn Singers, a Chicago-based group that consists of twelve acclaimed professional singers of diverse musical backgrounds.

The second half of Chicago Sinfonietta's MLK Tribute Concert will feature the final movement of Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection Symphony) written by Gustav Mahler, an Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer, who was one of the most talented symphonic composers of the late 19th century and early 20th century. This symphony is one of Mahler's most popular and successful works. Movement 5, "Im Tempo des scherzos," is an energetic and life-affirming piece that lifts a human soul up and gives hope, strength and joy. This composition will feature the wonderful voices of the North Central College Concert Choir and the Roosevelt University Conservatory Chorus, with acclaimed soloists Leah Dexter (mezzo-soprano) and Summer Hassan (soprano). The emotional ending of Mahler's symphony will conclude the concert with the feeling of courage and hope.

"Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart," said Martin Luther King, Jr. His heart was huge, and it is still pulsing in the waves of music that opens doors to freedom, equity, joy and peace.

For tickets or more information, please visit Tickets to Chicago Sinfonietta's MLK Tribute Concert range from $10 to $62 when purchased in advance online.

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