"The Chicago Sinfonietta upheld one of its integral annual customs despite Sunday’s frigid temperatures, presenting its Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Concert at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville. In keeping with tradition, the matinee program centered on works by black American composers, this year featuring works by Scott Joplin, Xavier Foley, and Margaret Bonds.oncerto for contrabass, heard here in its Chicagoland debut.
"Sinfonietta music director Mei-Ann Chen offered her ebullient advocacy both in extolling the works’ virtue and through her dedicated, enthusiastic conducting—none more so than in Xavier Foley’s “Victory” Concerto for contrabass, heard here in its Chicagoland debut.
"The Montgomery Variations was inspired by Bonds’ 1963 visit to the eponymous site of Martin Luther King’s most impactful civil rights campaigns, yet the scope of the work’s programmatic component extends beyond Montgomery itself. ...
"“It’s like cream cheese all the way through, it’s so rich,” Chen remarked in her introductory comments. The conductor brought impassioned vigor commensurate with that richness to the heroic declamations of the bookending movements, drawing sumptuous, finely woven sonority from the orchestra. Other standout moments included the second movement “Prayer Meeting,” which featured a lovely duet between principal oboist Ricardo Castañeda and flutist Janice MacDonald, as well as the third-movement “March,” a showcase for the Sinfonietta’s plucky bassoon section, including a lovely solo by principal Ben Roidl-Ward.
"To close the program, Mei-Ann Chen invoked another tradition by inviting the audience to stand and join in singing along to an orchestral medley of 'We Shall Overcome' and 'Lift E’vry Voice.' Chen, beaming through it all — took these words to heart as she waved a baton with one hand, and with the other, held a microphone to lead the audience chorus in the stirring anthem."
Full review available via Chicago Classical Review link below.