Chicago Sinfonietta Celebrates 35 Years of Promoting Diversity Through Classical Music

The group's motto: "Innovate. Diverse. Inclusive."

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In 1987, the Chicago Sinfonietta was founded by Maestro Paul Freeman with a simple goal: to bond a professional orchestra with a set of values that includes diversity, inclusion and equity in the art space.

“We are so honored to have been given this incredible blessing from our beloved founder, Maestro Paul Freeman, champion for diversity, equity and inclusion,” says Chicago Sinfonietta's Music Director Mei-Ann Chen. “He was way ahead of the country, waking up to this very important topic.”

Today, Chen continues that legacy. She is the Chicago Sinfonietta's second music director. She came on board in 2011, at a time when it was highly unusual to see a female conductor. 

She admits it was an impossible dream.

“Even my parents tried to shy me away from it. I was one stubborn girl who said to myself, if this is my calling, I'm going to find the angels on my journey to help make it happen.”

In 2008, the orchestra created what's now called The Freeman Fellowship Program, to develop young talent, like Jherrard Hardeman. The Chicago Sinfonietta gave him his first opportunity to conduct his own composition at age 16, and this year he will launch his professional career. The CEO credits Chen.

“Not only has she been a trail blazer, but she's also making sure that it doesn't stop with her. She's an amazing force. We are so lucky to have her,” explains Blake-Anthony Johnson, Chicago Sinfonietta President & CEO. .

This weekend, the Chicago Sinfonietta opens its’ 35th season at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville Saturday.

“The most beautiful thing, is for me to give it back to the community and impact the next generation of musicians.”  

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