Chicago Sinfonietta presents Sight + Sound

  • This concert program will feature violinist Jennifer Koh. It will take place at 8 p.m. on Sat., March 7 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and at 7:30 p.m. on Mon., March 9 at Symphony Center in Chicago.Courtesy of Juergen Frank

    This concert program will feature violinist Jennifer Koh. It will take place at 8 p.m. on Sat., March 7 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and at 7:30 p.m. on Mon., March 9 at Symphony Center in Chicago.Courtesy of Juergen Frank

Natalia Dagenhart
Updated 3/2/2020 11:10 AM

"Man's highest aspirations come from nature. A world without color would seem dead. Color is life. Light is the mother of color. Light reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors," said African-American expressionist painter Alma W. Thomas. I would add to these words -- a world without music would seem dead. Both visual art and music are born from nature and its organic beauty, harmony and peace.

Chicago Sinfonietta, the nation's most diverse orchestra, is happy to present its concert program called Sight + Sound that will showcase how visual art and music complement each other and create a unique presentation of this world. This concert program will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 7 at Wentz Concert Hall located at 171 E. Chicago Avenue in Naperville, and at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 9 at Symphony Center located at 220 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago.


Under the baton of Chicago Sinfonietta Music Director Mei-Ann Chen, this concert program will merge symphonic music and the world's most groundbreaking artists in a sincere and emotional celebration of the senses. This beautiful sonic art exhibition is meant to take audiences on an introspective journey through the world of visual art by way of music.

The Sight + Sound concert program will open with a piece called Finding Rothko by award-winning American composer Adam Schoenberg, a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School of Music. First performed on January 13, 2007, this work is a stunning tribute to Mark Rothko, a mid-20th century American abstract painter of Lithuanian Jewish descent. Rothko was a distinctive practitioner of abstract expressionism, the first major American artistic movement recognized by the art world. Rothko's abstract works of rectangles set formally in a colored field are celebrated for their brightness, vitality and luminosity.

Schoenberg was inspired by Rothko's art and created his piece after choosing four works that specifically resonated with him. Finding Rothko consists of four movements named after the colors used in four distinct Rothko paintings: orange, yellow, red and wine. Schoenberg turned the large images of Rothko into grand and vivid music, and Chicago Sinfonietta will perform this piece along with theatrical lighting to assist audience members in visualizing each movement.

Chicago Sinfonietta is a cultural institution that leads the nation in programming works by women and diverse, under-represented composers. The orchestra will continue this concert program featuring world-renowned violinist Jennifer Koh as a guest artist for the World Premiere of Syzygy, a commissioned work by acclaimed American composer and pianist Courtney Bryan. This unique masterpiece celebrates three great artists and their cultural contributions to society, and the audience will have a beautiful opportunity to observe how their timeless artistic masterpieces are reflected in the gorgeous sounds of Bryan's music.

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"It is an honor to work with the dynamic Chicago Sinfonietta and the phenomenal Jennifer Koh for the first time to perform my first violin concerto!" said Bryan, a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory, Rutgers University, and Columbia University. "This composition is special to me as it highlights the visual art of three major female artists that I feel drawn to and want to learn more about: Frida Kahlo, Maya Lin and Alma Thomas. I was particularly fascinated by their works inspired by eclipses or invoking a sense of natural wonder, which ultimately led me to align these three artists in one piece, similarly to how planetary objects can align as a syzygy. I hope audience members feel the themes of curiosity and beauty, lightness and darkness, and I look forward to learning what resonates with the audience after the premiere."

Recognized for her dazzling virtuosity and technical assurance, American violinist Jennifer Koh is truly a unique musician as she has expanded the contemporary violin repertoire through a wide range of commissioned projects. Koh, a native Chicagoan, has premiered more than 70 works written especially for her. Syzygy, a three-movement work that is commissioned in collaboration with The New American Concerto, Arco Collaborative's multi-season commissioning project, became another gem in the brilliant palette of Koh's repertoire.

"I am thrilled to bring the World Premiere of Courtney Bryan's spectacular piece to life alongside the Chicago Sinfonietta and Mei-Ann Chen," said Koh. "I actually performed for the first time with Chicago Sinfonietta when I was 14 or 15 years old and I am so excited to be back working with an organization that has inspired me, especially as a woman of color, since the beginning of my career. Bryan's composition is an incredibly moving and soaring piece that melds visual art and music in a compelling way for both the musicians playing it and for the audiences who will first get to experience it in a concert hall."

The second half of the program will feature the music of famous Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, an innovator of Russian music in the romantic period who achieved a uniquely Russian musical identity. Mussorgsky, one of the group of composers known as "The Five," found inspiration in Russian history and folklore. Chicago Sinfonietta will perform Pictures at an Exhibition, a composition that was written in 1874 as a suite for piano and in 1922 was arranged by French composer Maurice Ravel for symphony orchestra. Although this work was also orchestrated by other composers, Ravel's orchestration is the most popular one and Chicago Sinfonietta will perform this particular version of Mussorgsky's composition.


Mussorgsky wrote this piece being inspired by a visit to an art exhibition that featured drawings and watercolor works of his friend, the Russian artist and architect Viktor Hartmann, who had died in 1873 at age 39. Pictures at an Exhibition consists of 10 movements, with each of them representing one of the drawings or artworks on display. These movements are interspersed with intermezzo, a recurring "promenade" theme that represents a visitor walking through the exhibition (in this case, it is Mussorgsky himself). The audience will appreciate the composer's strong feeling of respect and admiration of Hartmann's artistry and talent.

"There is something for everyone on this beautiful program inspired by the visual arts -- honoring the past with majestic and well known repertoire, embracing the future with new and interesting works, and last but not least, celebrating the women artists in our society during Women's History Month," said Mei-Ann Chen.

This wonderful concert program will show this world's unique combination of colors and sounds in such a way that it will stay in everyone's heart and soul forever.

For tickets or more information, please visit The price ranges from $10 to $62. Chicago Sinfonietta also invites you to get creative before the concert and during intermission with BRIDGE audience engagement sponsored by Macy's. You are welcome to make your own masterpiece, enjoy an interactive exhibit from DuPage Children's Museum, explore how violins are created with The Chicago School of Violin Making, and capture memories with FOTIO.

Natalia Dagenhart


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