Our Mission

Chicago Sinfonietta is a professional orchestra dedicated to modeling and promoting diversity, inclusion, and both racial and cultural equity in the arts through the universal language of symphonic music. Our core values are built around being bold and daring in all aspects of our work, providing a source of connectivity through music, and ensuring and inspiring a continued investment in diversity and inclusion in classical music.


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Our History

Since 1987, Chicago Sinfonietta has been a defiantly different kind of orchestra. The orchestra was founded by Maestro Paul Freeman to address the disconnect between the utter lack of diversity in orchestras and the vibrant, nuanced, communities for which they play. For nearly 30 years, we have made it our mission to represent the city of Chicago, reflecting that vibrancy on stage and in our programming, making classical music accessible for anyone.

In everything we do, we are inspired by our founder Paul Freeman (1936-2015). From humble roots in Richmond, Virginia, he grew to become a passionate musician and ultimately a brilliant conductor equally respected for his knowledge of music as he was for his natural leadership and charming sense of humor. He was the first African American conductor on the podium of more than 50 orchestras worldwide and conducted more than 100 orchestras in 28 countries over the course of his career. He served as chief conductor of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Prague (1996-2007) and the music director of the Victoria Symphony in Canada (1979-1989). He made more than 200 recordings in his career (on par with mega maestros such as von Karajan and Bernstein) and highlighted prominent, but under-recorded, diverse composers at every turn.

And, so it goes. The accomplishments of Paul Freeman are startling in their magnitude.

The orchestra’s 29 years have been highlighted by six European tours, two Kennedy Center performances, two Millennium Park concerts attended by over 19,000 people, and 15 recordings. For nearly 30 years, diversity, inclusion and bold and dynamic programming has been at the center of what we do. Rarely performed music by composers of color are a Sinfonietta staple and often include almost entirely lost compositions that are carefully pieced together and preserved through recording and/or the production of sheet music. Unusual instruments and musical styles like the bagpipes, steel drums, sitar, Indian Ghazal music, hip hop, and yes, even cell phones have served as centerpieces for Sinfonietta programs - some of the most daring musical collaborations any orchestra is putting on stage.

In 2011, Maestro Mei-Ann Chen began her tenure with the orchestra (as only the second Music Director in the Sinfonietta’s history). In her first season, the Sinfonietta was named by ASCAP as the recipient of the 2011-12 Award for Adventurous Programming and in 2013 was dubbed, “The city’s hippest orchestra” by the Chicago Tribune. From a battle of the bands with Mucca Pazza to collaborations with Young Chicago Authors, FootworKINGZ, and bass virtuoso, Victor Wooten the Sinfonietta has embraced the daring programming that has always been part of its history. In turn, audience response over the last five seasons has been unprecedented.

The legacy passed to Maestro Chen and all of us at the Sinfonietta goes far beyond what you see on stage. Maestro Freeman was, throughout his lifetime, a fierce advocate for early career, diverse musicians. Many of the musicians you see on stage (including our Concert Master since 1993, Paul Zafer) are the direct beneficiaries of this vision and personal investment that Maestro Freeman made in so many people. In 2008, this practice was formalized to create our Project Inclusion Fellowship Program. In the 9 seasons since this program began, Project Inclusion has served 45 fellows – more than all other similar fellowship programs in the country combined according to a 2016 League of American Orchestras study.

As the orchestra looks ahead to our 30th anniversary next season, we do so with tremendous momentum and support for the work we are doing. In 2016, Chicago Sinfonietta was one of just 14 organizations in the nation to receive the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions – the “genius award” for non-profit organizations. Along with national recognition, this award came with a large, one-time investment of $625,000 establishing the organizations first ever reserve fund and quasi-endowment. On the tail of this recognition came our most successful annual Ball ever which raised more than $535,000 for the orchestra. And just this month, we were awarded the Spirit of Innovation Award by the Chicago Innovation Awards.

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