10 years of camaraderie and timeless music

A decade of CSO Latino Alliance

CSO Latino Alliance board members pose with the Sones de Mexico Ensemble at ¡Noche de una obra maestra mexicana! on Oct. 24, 2023.

Megan Ireland

Over the past ten years, the CSO Latino Alliance — a group of Latino classical music aficionados, has truly struck a harmonious chord with Chicago-area Latinos and music appreciation with families, learning and networking!  

We embarked on our journey by hosting our first soiree in the fall of 2013. The CSO Latino Alliance started organizing pre and postconcert events involving various local professional groups such as ALPFA, HispanicPro, NHSN and Negocios Now as partners. CSO Latino Alliance members gathered after working hours at Symphony Center to enjoy wine and ready to savor the sounds of Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Boccherini, Falla and more.

During that inaugural season, a pivotal event was Hallowed Haunts, a Halloween-themed preconcert gathering designed for children and their families. The festivities included a delightful lunch where children got to touch and explore musical instruments, and there were captivating demonstrations by members of the Civic Orchestra and a Mexican folkloric group. Adding to the festive atmosphere, the kids adorned themselves in costumes for the occasion. Afterward, trick-or-treaters enjoyed the Hallowed Haunts and Dia de los Muertos concert. The Civic Orchestra, accompanied by the special guest Sones de Mexico Ensemble, guided the audience through a delightful journey, transitioning from eerie melodies to vibrant Mexican tunes. This musical celebration seamlessly blended two enchanting October traditions. In addition, I attended many Kids' Concerts with my own son, a child at the time. More recently, he has attended some of our Latino Alliance events, as have the now older children of many other parents in the group. This fills us with joy to see our community engaging families — having our kids sort of grow with the CSO. Thus, 2013 marked a year of mesmerizing melodies and the birth of our musical camaraderie.

In the following years, our passion for classical music and gregarious nature led us to explore new horizons. We sought to highlight musical prodigies in action and partner with more local groups, such as SPR (Spanish Public Radio), various local ERGs (Employee Resource Groups), and various Latin American consulates. We even had some of our own impromptu gatherings that made us feel engaged.   

By 2015, our networking skills reached a crescendo as we organized ¡Noche navideña!, our first preconcert event for the CSO’s annual holiday concert, Merry, Merry Chicago! (previously Welcome, Yule!). This event consolidated our affinity group with our love for music and our strong connection to family, resulting in high attendance and subsequent connections and collaborations. We should have known that our Latino colleagues have a preference to involve the family whenever possible.

In the following years our dedication to classical music education blossomed. We started to include an educational component to our events, bringing knowledgeable persons and musicians or guest conductors to Q&A sessions that helped us expand our love and knowledge of classical compositions. It was a joy to see attendees’ faces as they learned from musical experts about the music as well as their stories as professional musicians. Riccardo Muti spoke at one of our events in 2017, stating that “music does not know the difference between people; it only speaks to their hearts.”  

Our Noche de Tango preconcert event at Grainger Hall was truly elevated by the presence of a captivating tango dancer couple. This invigorating evening not only provided a memorable experience but also set the tone for the immersive musical encounters that followed. All this was incredibly rewarding.  

On another occasion, Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya led the CSO with pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, a Mexican-born pianist who has made Chicago home, performing Carlos Chávez’s colorful Piano Concerto in a rivetting performance that also included Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition (Dec 12-17, 2013). It seemed that the CSO Latino Alliance’s influence was expanding beyond our local circle.

At Noche de Flamenco, we heard the language of guitar strings played by Pablo Sáinz-Villegas and saw rhythmic footwork of flamenco by Ensemble Español (a premier Spanish Dance Company and Center in the U.S. based in Chicago) in Grainger Hall.   

In June 2018, I was honored with an invitation to join a panel of speakers during the National Conference of the League of American Orchestras, hosted in Chicago. This provided a platform to showcase the CSO Latino Alliance’s strategic emphasis on audience diversity and inclusion within the CSO. The presentation prominently featured the inception of the CSO Latino Alliance, a significant initiative supported by key figures in CSO's leadership—Deborah Rutter, former president of the CSOA, followed by current CSOA president, Jeff Alexander, and Philip Koester, who served as the vice president of marketing at the time of the initiative's launch. 

To mark our fifth anniversary in the autumn of 2019, we curated our inaugural movie viewing event featuring a Civic Orchestra quartet and a vibrant mariachi and dance ensemble. The evening featured a 1930s black and white film accompanied by the evocative music of Silvestre Revueltas, a Mexican composer with ties to Chicago. We were honored to host Angel Gil-Ordóñez, the music director of the Georgetown University Orchestra in Washington, D.C., whose profound knowledge and charismatic presence left a lasting and positive impression on our gathering. Additionally, we showcased Jesus del Toro, a distinguished CSO Latino Alliance board member and author of a book on Revueltas. The event achieved resounding success, and I am confident that our shared passion for classical music and networking had a meaningful impact on the lives of those who attended. 

CSO Latino Alliance board member Jesus del Toro discussing his book Silvestre Revueltas del Otro Lado before Merry, Merry Chicago! at Symphony Center on December 15, 2017.

In the first five years, our networking journey was beautifully accompanied by the timeless melodies of classical music. We fostered friendships, created memorable experiences and shared our passion with the world. Following a Symphony Center Presents performance by the Carlos Henriquez Quintent and Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band in January 2015, which was a rhythmic celebration of Latin Jazz, we hosted a memorable networking event that resonated with the vibrant energy of the performance. As previously mentioned, ¡Noche navideña! became a preconcert reception for Merry, Merry Chicago! and an annual festive tradition that now brings some 230 attendees closer together during the holiday season, with this joyous family pre-concert event adding an extra layer of merriment. 

The COVID-19 year threw a challenging curveball at our plans. Lockdowns and safety precautions put our gatherings on hold but couldn’t silence our passion for music. During that time, we stayed connected through virtual meetings — including one with the Overture Council — and some online concerts and discussions that the CSO offered, which, although not the same as being together, kept our spirits high. We learned to adapt and appreciate the power of technology to bridge distances, including a virtual ¡Noche navideña! As restrictions eased, it seemed that we lost members and partners, but we emerged more resilient than ever. Our determination to continue our passion grew stronger. 

In 2021, we organized a couple of smaller, socially distanced gatherings, and the sense of joy in reuniting with fellow classical aficionados was indescribable. The challenges of that year and a half only fueled our dedication to the music we love and the bonds we share. We proved that even a pandemic couldn’t silence our harmonious spirit. 

In 2022, we were back in full force, and our events had record attendance. We established a series with a brand name: Nuestras noches (Our nights). That year our pre and postconcert events included Chucho Valdés, Juan Diego Flórez and themed Nuestras noches events tied to CSO concert repertoire, such as ¡Noche navideña!, Noche alegre and more. 

CSO Latino Alliance's ¡Nuestras noches! 2023/24 Season brochure.

Our re-branded Nuestras noches events emphasize the positive impact of Latinos’' participation and engagement with the CSO. Throughout our journey, Nuestras Noches had been a recurring theme, and consolidating these under one brand has proven to be a significant stride. This move has played a pivotal role in aligning memorable events with a united voice that extends beyond the music itself. 

To conclude the 2021/22 season, the Latino Alliance hosted Noche de Opera in honor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus’ moving performances of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera conducted by Riccardo Muti. The event became a feast for the senses, featuring the mesmerizing opera singing talents of Aldo Navarrete from the Chicago Summer Opera. 

Near the opening of the following season, we were delighted by Chucho Valdes in Noche de la Creación event featuring a postconcert celebration for Mr. Valdes's 81st birthday. It was a festive occasion, enriched by the Cuban Trova music presented by Norberto Guerra's Cuban Jazz duo in a tribute to the vibrant cultural tapestry that we celebrate within our community. 

In March 2023, we had guitar virtuoso Pablo Sáinz-Villegas who enchanted the crowd at Noche alegre, again. 

Riccardo Muti rejoined us for a celebratory evening in June following his concert featuring works by J. Strauss Jr., Schifrin, and Schubert. On that occasion, the Latino Alliance and African American Network organized a well-attended event in Grainger Ballroom, serving as a tribute to Muti for his remarkable 13-year tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's music director. We had CSOA President Jeff Alexander expressed gratitude, and I had a chance to publicly convey our appreciation, addressing Muti upon his entrance, praising him for his role as the heart and soul of the CSO. I wanted to highlight his ability to connect with audiences through his performances, his steadfast commitment to the Orchestra and his belief in the transformative power of music, which has served as inspiration to all. Muti expressed gratitude to the Alliance members, highlighting the importance of our contributions to the Orchestra's and the city's musical culture. 

Over the past two years, we've welcomed a significant number of college students to our events and CSO concerts, thanks to the dedicated promotional efforts of Melynna Arreola-Quiroga. As a college student at DePaul University who joined our board, Melynna took the lead in recruiting and promoting youth attendance. She even spearheaded the involvement of a group of high school students from the Pilsen and Little Village areas participating in an outreach program. I had the privilege of sponsoring some of them to attend a Symphony concert. This initiative reflects our commitment to fostering youth engagement with the CSO. 

The 2023/24 season started with two wonderful events–¡Noche de una obra maestra mexicana! and our traditional ¡Noche navideña! In the first event, we celebrated the eternal legacy of Silvestre Revueltas. 

Ten years ago, when we started recruiting members we sought to help diversify CSO’s audience to be younger and include more Latinos. The CSO Latino Alliance has grown to be a vibrant community that has flourished over the decade into a tapestry of music enthusiasts with some who are seasoned aficionados, we always have newcomers discovering the enchantment of classical compositions, and our alliance welcomes all with open arms. Our diverse membership mirrors the rich tapestry of our city, bringing together individuals from various backgrounds, including both Latinos and non-Latinos, representing a myriad of nationalities, cultures, and countries of origin. Together, we’ve witnessed countless breathtaking performances, fostered lifelong friendships, and empowered one another in our professional endeavors. 

In the harmonious embrace of the CSO Latino Alliance, I firmly believe that we have collectively witnessed numerous breathtaking performances that deeply touch the soul. Beyond the confines of the Symphony Center concert hall, our bond has blossomed into the cultivation of lifelong friendships, forming a tightly knit community resonant with a shared passion for music. The success of all our events and the growth of the CSO Latino Alliance would not have been possible without the dedicated support of key CSOA staff members, Erika Nelson, Director of Institutional Marketing and Revenue Management; Elizabeth Madeja, Content Marketing and Digital Experience (instrumental in the launch of the CSO Latino Alliance); as well as Alyssa Greenberg, Audience Engagement Manager; Laura Emerick, Digital Content Editor; Jesse Bruer, Marketing and Promotions Associate; Megan Ireland, Digital Engagement Associate, and many others working diligently behind the scenes. We express our sincere gratitude to all who have contributed to these meaningful and enriching experiences.  

Moreover, our success at CSO Latino Alliance has been significantly shaped by dedicated individuals who have volunteered their time and expertise as part of our Advisory Board. Currently, the active members, hailing from a diverse range of countries, include Rina Magarici (Venezuela), Melynna Arreola-Quiroga (Mexico), Angelica Cano (Mexico/Guatemala), Emmanuel Isaac Almonte (Dominican Republic), Estefania García (Colombia), Jesús Del Toro (Mexico), Juan B. Solana (Spain), Maria Carbonell Rojas (Venezuela), Pedro Guerrero (Peru), Henry Johanet (Cuba), Xavier Beteta (Guatemala) and myself from Bolivia. This rich diversity of Latin American nationalities not only showcases our unity but also emphasizes that there is no singular Latino experience. 

We will continue this melodic journey, where we not only revel in the beauty of classical compositions but also uplift each other within our community, highlighting our diversity. The CSO Latino Alliance stands as more than just a community; it is a testament to the transcendent power of music to unite, inspire, and enrich lives. Those who join us allow the symphony of shared passion and camaraderie to elevate their classical music experience and join in celebrating a decade of timeless music with us. 

On Jan. 26, we broke out the wine glasses for a night of festivity with musical magnificence in honor of our 10 Year Anniversary Celebration at Instituto Cervantes. A decade of harmony, camaraderie, and unwavering dedication to helping expand and diversify the audience of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra called for a celebration like no other. We commemorated this remarkable milestone with a nostalgic journey through the beautiful events of our past, present and future. We came together in grand style at Instituto Cervantes, a partner organization, to toast to our shared passion. That evening was an unforgettable blend of enchanting live music, heartwarming stories from our journey, the opportunity to connect with fellow Latinos and friends and classical music lovers and professionals and, of course, to dance to Latin rhythms. Our 10 Year Anniversary Celebration was a harmonious tribute to a decade of shared musical passion and enduring friendships — a crescendo of joy, culture, and celebration. 

Looking ahead, we encourage you to attend concerts at CSO to be swept away by the symphonic sounds that have defined our group, and let the melodies of Mozart, Beethoven, Revueltas, Falla, and more serenade you throughout any night.  Our commitment to fostering connections within our community has given rise to numerous pre and postconcert gatherings one can enjoy, enhancing the cultural tapestry of our Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Loida Rosario (left) and Ramiro J. Atristaín-Carrión (right), Co-Chairs of the CSO Latino Alliance, at a CSO Latino Alliance networking event on May 13, 2016

Todd Rosenberg Photography