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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.
Collaborating with artists and groups as diverse as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Grammy nominee Lupe Fiasco, New Millennium Orchestra of Chicago specializes in pushing the boundaries of symphonic music. Led by music director Francesco Milioto, the ensemble of nearly 30 leaps from classical to contemporary, working in live remixes, improv, mixed media, world music, and the occasional dance party along the way. The ensemble has a particular knack for opera—recent performances include Der Kaiser Von Atlantis, presented for free at the Pritzker Pavilion, and Verdi's Joan of Arc, a collaboration with Chicago Opera Theater.