Chicago Sinfonietta was already markedly different from its counterparts when it played its first notes in 1987. Its founder and conductor Paul Freeman wanted to create a symphony that actually reflected the community in which it existed. The ensemble he formed brought together musicians from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, who interpreted both classical pieces and forgotten compositions from composers of color. His concept proved successful—the symphony toured Europe, played the Kennedy Center twice, and produced 14 albums, all while tunefully demonstrating the universality of music.
Today, Chicago Sinfonietta continues to perform unique programs, and supports music education and professional development opportunities for members of underrepresented communities. Freeman retired from his post at the end of the 2011 season, passing the reins new music director Mei-Ann Chen, but his legacy lives on in the music of performers he helped get started, including classical-music legend Yo-Yo Ma.
Owner Valerie Beck and her team of chocophile tour guides lead guests on walking tours of Chicago’s historical bakeries and chocolatiers, narrating the history of beloved sweets while walking an easy route through vistas of Chicago’s stunning architectural heritage. While snacking on samples of sweets, guests learn about chocolate’s storied history, the cupcake’s rise to prominence, and how to guess the flavor of filling inside Oompa Loompas by sight. Tours convene throughout Chicago’s many neighborhoods, giving guests a sneak peek into Chicago's signature confections, boutique shops, and mobile sweet-vending trucks. The chocolate or cupcake jaunts provide the perfect setting for a girls’ day out or bachelorette party, showing tour-goers the sweeter side of the city without getting caught in construction sites of shoddily built gingerbread houses.
Hailed by the Chicago Tribune for their “pure tone, clear vowels, and firm blend,” the singers of the Bella Voce chamber choir wrap silken vocal cords around composer George Frideric Handel’s masterful oratorio during a performance of Baroque classicism. The choral ensemble takes on this cornerstone of the Western musical canon with historically accurate gusto, enlisting the string-and-brass accompaniment of period-instrument ensemble The Callipygian Players to recreate Handel’s work as the composer himself may have experienced it. Artistic director Andrew Lewis swings his conductor’s wand with aplomb, casting necromantic spells that raise his predecessor’s spirit from the dead to terrify the chorus into hitting higher notes.
Founded in 2011, the Chicago-based American Chamber Opera features an ensemble committed to singing full-length oratorios in English. Its productions resemble concerts more than traditional opera performances: the music takes center stage as the singers belt and emote in settings that evoke the world of the story with just a few well-placed details.
Led by Russell Vinick—winner of the Illinois Council of Orchestras' 2010 Small Orchestra Conductor of the Year award—the Lake Shore Symphony delights listeners with classic and modern orchestral works. "Made in America" kicks off with Joan Tower's piece of the same name, riffing on "America the Beautiful" to inspire patriotic feeling in show-goers' hearts and initiate patriotism routines in cyborgs' motherboards. Arranged by celebrated choral composer John Rutter, "Spirituals" collects traditional African-American church songs into an uplifting sonic package delivered by the Northside College Preparatory High School Concert Choir. Antonín Dvořák was inspired by similar material in composing his Symphony From the New World, which ends the evening by setting folk-inflected melodies to exquisite orchestration. The show will take place in Northside College Preparatory High School's acoustically honed auditorium, with a sound-friendly shell that keeps notes from confusedly rearranging themselves into renditions of "100 Bottles of Beer."