Special guests, global music highlight annual Sinfonietta Martin Luther King Day concert

By Donna Marbury,

Clarinetist and Chicago native Anthony McGill says it is always a pleasure to perform in his hometown. As a guest performer at Chicago Sinfonietta’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he says he looks forward to performing on of his favorite pieces, Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland, under the direction of Mei-Ann Chen, to commemorate the legacy of King.

“There’s nothing like playing in your hometown,” says McGill, principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, who performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008. “The piece we are playing is really gorgeous. This is a small orchestra, so the sound is really intimate. It has a chamber music feel with a string orchestra.”

Chicago Sinfonietta continues its 25th year with the King tribute in Naperville on Sunday, January 20 at 3 p.m. and in downtown Chicago at Symphony Center on Monday, January 21 at 7:30 p.m.

Chicago Sinfonietta

The tribute will blend classical and contemporary musical selections from across the globe in a stirring tribute to the civil rights leader. Chen, the Sinfonietta’s music director, says she is proud that she can pay tribute to King by putting together a show of diversity and depth. She helms a rare performance of Chicagoan Florence Price’s The Oak, who was recognized as the first black female symphonic composer.

“One of my goals for the Sinfonietta, and a personal passion of mine, is to help expose talented diverse conductors to our audience,” said Chen, who recently received the Helen M. Thompson Award for an Emerging Music Director. “I am very excited to be able to provide opera superstar Eric Owens with his debut conducting opportunity at this year’s performances.”

Owens, a Grammy award winning bass vocalist who has a background playing the oboe, says that he has been studying conducting for about six years and is making a “long transition” into the field. He will be conducting Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber and singing I’m a Soldier (Spiritual Suite) by Lena McLin.

“This is a great opportunity, and I was really excited when I was called for the show,” says Owens, who recently wrapped up performances in the Los Angeles Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly. He says the challenge of conducting has given him a more multifaceted view of music. “When you are conductor, you are responsible for everything…People don’t realize work behind the scenes.”

The Mosaic Choir, led by Mark Myers, choral music educator of Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, joins the orchestra with selection from South Africa, Indonesia and traditional African American cultures.

Tickets can be purchased by calling the Chicago Sinfonietta at (312) 236-3681 ext. 2 or online at

Naperville Concert:
Wentz Concert Hall of North Central College
171 E. Chicago Avenue, Naperville
Sunday, January 20 at 3 p.m.
Chicago Concert:
Symphony Center
220 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago
Monday, January 21 at 7:30 p.m.

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