Chicago Sinfonietta’s “Praise and Punk” Review – Altering the Way We See Classical Music

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For 30 years, the Chicago Sinfonietta has pushed artistic boundaries to present an updated look at classical music.  The Sinfonietta has done this by being committed to diversity and inclusion which leads to programs that are as bold as they are extraordinary.  For the last show of their 30th season, the Sinfonietta presented “Praise and Punk” a mashup of gospel and classical with a nonconformist marching band thrown in for good measure.

Violinist Melissa White and Cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing

To start the “Praise” part of “Praise and Punk” the Chicago Sinfonietta was joined by Apostolic Church of God Sanctuary Choir.  Their Gospel voices soared over the Sinfonietta in the opening number “How Excellent is Thy Name” which got the night moving.

The Chicago Sinfonietta loves to promote young musicians and that commitment was definitely on display during the second song.  “La Muse et le Poete” featured two soloists:  violinist Melissa White and 15 year old (!) Ifetayo Ali-Landing on cello.  The piece was a beautiful classical piece in which the two soloists displayed their virtuosity in tender ways.  Despite not being old enough to drive, Ali-Landing made her Symphony Center debut and drove her way into the hearts of the crowd.  She was flawless.

Apostolic Church of God Sanctuary Choir took the audience to church

This show was so packed that the audience barely had time to recover from processing what Ali-Landing had just done, before the Apostolic Church of God Sanctuary Choir took them to church with “Celebration Medley.”  Which, as the name implies, was an assortment of Gospel songs so big it required seven vocal soloists and three conductors to navigate.  The medley contained so much Energy, enthusiasm, and high-level music-making that the crowd had no other option but to clap along and shout “Amen!”


After the intermission, it was time for the “Punk” aspect of the night – which was provided by an absurd marching band named Mucca Pazza.  The misfit group, wearing brightly colored, mismatched marching band uniforms, might look humorous, but they take their music very serious.   Presented as a battle of the bands between the Chicago Sinfronietta and Mucca Pazza, the main feature of the night was the presentation of music from Romeo and Juliet.

Mucca Pazza: the “Punk” aspect of the night

Mucca Pazza played the part of the Montagues, and their guitarist Romeo.  Which made the Sinfonietta the Capulets, with one of their cellist as Juliet.  The entire story was presented musically, acted out by the musicians as well as with a doll puppet show performed on stage and projected on screen.  The doll puppet show was humorous, but also oddly fascinating, especially dramatic during the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt.  In a surprise ending, Mucca Pazza declared that no double suicide would occur, but instead they would perform the rare joyful ending where Romeo & Juliet live happily ever after.  “Woe?! What woe? Whoa! Wow.”

There may have never been another show as eclectic as this one.  From uplifting gospel anthems to a hoodlum interpretation of Shakespeare, there aren’t many groups that could pull off a program as daring as this one.  The Chicago Sinfonietta’s has realized its vision of altering the way the audience sees a symphonic ensemble.

Photo Credit: Chris Ocken Photography



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