Jan. 15 is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. To help your kids celebrate his legacy, you could easily turn to a history book or PBS special. But Paul Freeman, music director for the Chicago Sinfonietta, has an alternative: Come hear his orchestra perform Tchaikovsky’s "Romeo and Juliet" Jan. 15 and 16.
OK, so maybe "Romeo and Juliet" isn’t the first piece of music that comes to mind when you think of King, but Freeman says it sends a King-like message. "It expresses the coming together of the two families, the Montagues and the Capulets, and their becoming friends," he says.
The rest of the 2006 program, which includes the Sinfonietta playing "American Variations on Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," Deeply Rooted Dance Theater performing "Three Dances for Orchestra" and the Chicago Children’s Choir and Elmhurst College Concert Choir singing "We Shall Overcome," sends a similar message, Freeman says. "[The program] is music that relates to brotherhood, to justice and all the things [King] represents."
And the program is in demand. First performed 20 years ago, the concert used to be a biennial affair. Because of its popularity, it becomes an annual event this year.
That’s good news to Agnes Payne, who teaches at St. Margaret Mary School in Chicago. Payne has brought her students and their families to the concert over the years and plans to bring even more this year. "The performers they had were so powerful," Payne says of last year’s show. "It brought out all the nationalities that helped with the civil rights movement."
River Forest resident Scott Hargadon, who took his 12-year-old daughter, Darcy, to the concert last year, agrees. "I would highly recommend people take their kids to something like this," Hargadon says. "It [put] Martin Luther King in a context where it wasn’t just a name in a book."
There’s good reason for that—Freeman actually met King twice. The first time, Freeman was conducting the Oslo Philharmonic as King received his Nobel Prize. The second time was in an airport just three months before King’s assassination. Freeman was traveling to conduct the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra—the first black man to do so.
"I feel a kind of kinship," Freeman says.
The Chicago Sinfonietta performs its Martin Luther King Jr. tribute concert at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at Dominican University’s Lund Auditorium, 7900 W. Division St., River Forest; and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16 at Orchestra Hall’s Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. Adult tickets run $25-$38 at Dominican; $25-$90 at Orchestra Hall. All child/student tickets are $10-$12. Chicago Parent readers can mention this magazine when ordering tickets and buy a discounted adult ticket (in the C seating section) for $20 with the purchase of a child/student ticket. The Chicago Parent discount is good for the entire season. Call (312) 236-3681 ext. 2, or visit www.chicagosinfonietta.org. Paige Fumo Fox