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City’s architecture inspires Chicago Sinfonietta’s latest program

Composer Jennifer Higdcurated Chicago Sinfonietta’s “City-Scapes” programming. |  Phoby Candace Di Carlo

Composer Jennifer Higdon curated the Chicago Sinfonietta’s “City-Scapes” programming. | Photo by Candace Di Carlo

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Chicago
Sinfonietta — ‘City-Scapes’

♦ 8 p.m. June 8, Wentz Concert Hall, North Central College, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville, Ill. Tickets, $40-$50; finearts.northcentralcollege.edu

♦ ♦ ♦

♦ 3 p.m. June 9, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. Tickets, $26-$50;
(312) 236-3681, Ext. 2; chicagosinfonietta.org

Updated: July 8, 2013 6:14AM



Sure, the Chicago Sinfonietta regularly performs works by such classical standard-bearers as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Aaron Copland, but the plucky ensemble also likes to stretch beyond typical repertoire and explore the new, forgotten and ignored.

Indeed, music director Mei-Ann Chen and the orchestra were honored for their derring-do in 2012 by the League of American Orchestras with a prestigious American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers award for adventurous programming.

The Sinfonietta continues its musical adventures
June 8-9 with “City-Scapes,” a thematic program featuring as its centerpiece a suite of newly commissioned short works inspired by
four of Chicago’s iconic pieces of architecture.

After conceiving the idea for the suite in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the orchestra turned to noted composer Jennifer Higdon to act as a kind of curator for the project, which is titled “City-Scapes.”

Her main task was choosing the four diverse emerging composers who each wrote a 4- to 6-minute musical evocation of a landmark chosen from a list provided by the foundation.

“Because I’m around so many young composers and I try to keep up with what everyone is doing, Mei-Ann asked me if I could figure out who might write in a way that it would all go together,” Higdon said.

After the pieces were finished, she checked them over and decided on the most suitable playing order.

“I was impressed by what they’ve come up with because I thought, ‘How do you capture the essence of a building in a piece?’ Higdon said. “It’s a clever idea.”

Among the four composers selected was Vivian Fung, 38, a Canadian native who earned her doctorate at the Juilliard School in New York City. Her violin concerto won a 2013 Juno Award (the Canadian version of a Grammy) for classical composition of the year.

Fung decided to musically evoke the Aqua, an 82-story skyscraper designed by Jeanne Gang. The structure at 225 N. Columbus Drive, Chicago, has a distinctive, undulating exterior that suggests waves. “There were a few buildings that I was interested in, but this really caught my eye,” she said.

Fung was able to discuss the skyscraper’s conception with Gang via a series of emails, and she bought the architect’s book “Reveal,” which includes conceptual sketches of the structure.

“If I were to do this for every piece, I don’t think I could do it,” she said of the architecture focus. “But for that particular building, I was just so curious and so thrilled that I could talk to Jeanne and get an inside look at the process, and it blended nicely with my composition.”

The composer wrote the piece, “Aqua,” in two months. She found the composition’s concise length made it harder to write. “To really pinpoint everything you want to say in five minutes, for me, was quite challenging,” Fung said, “because I could see it could easily becoming a bigger work.”

Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.



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