Negaunee Music Institute Showcase celebrates a season rich with creativity

Principal Conductor Ken-David Masur leads the Civic Orchestra of Chicago in Schumann's Symphony No. 4.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

As a year of hard work and perseverance by young musicians and music educators comes to an end, the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrates their achievements through its first annual showcase. Featuring performances by musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Percussion Scholarship Program, Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative and more, this free virtual event will premiere on June 14 at 6:30 p.m. (Central) and will be available for on-demand viewing on the CSO’s YouTube channel, Facebook page and CSOtv.

Opening the showcase are performances by students from the Percussion Scholarship Program, founded and co-directed by CSO percussion Patricia Dash and Lyric Opera Assistant Principal Percussion Douglas Waddell. PSP offers percussion instruction and performance opportunities for Chicago students in grades 3-12 on a full scholarship basis.

According to Waddell, one of the Percussion Scholarship Program’s strengths is its focus on mentorship between older and younger students. “Oftentimes, we found out that the younger kids really appreciate having the older kids help them, more than us, because they’ve seen these older kids play really fantastic pieces, and they look up to them,” he says. The Negaunee Music Institute Showcase will highlight this collaborative approach by featuring a snare drum trio performed by graduating senior Bridget Hemesath and second-year PSP members Leo Shilo and Nicholas Zhang. Hemesath also will perform a solo piece for marimba.

As she prepares to study biomedical engineering at Michigan Technological University in the next school year, Hemesath expresses gratitude for her eight years in PSP. “The Percussion Scholarship Program teaches you how to have a really good work ethic, and it teaches you how to put all of your effort into something,” she says. “I know that everything I’ve learned from this program, I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

Bridget Hemesath, a senior graduating from the Percussion Scholarship Program, performs "Restless," a marimba solo by Rich O'Meara.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

The NMI Showcase also will feature the Rondo from Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, with Zachary Allen performing the work’s prominent oboe part. Allen, a high school sophomore, is a fellow of the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative, an organization that mentors young musicians from underrepresented backgrounds, with the goal of gaining acceptance into and scholarships to top-tier music schools. The Negaunee Music Institute is a co-founding organization and lead partner of CMPI.

“Zachary Allen is a student that started out playing cello, heard the Sheherazade solo when he was at Interlochen Arts Camp, came home and told his mother that he wanted to play oboe,” says CMPI Program Director Adrienne Thompson. “It is obvious that he chose the instrument that was right for him because of the amount of progress that he has made in such a short period of time.”

In March 2021, Allen performed the Mozart Oboe Quartet at Orchestra Hall during a master class with Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti, who joined virtually from Italy to coach two chamber ensembles of CMPI fellows and mentors. Brent Taghap, Seth Pae and Najette Abouelhadi — CMPI mentors who are also current or former members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago — performed with Allen in the master class, and the same ensemble will be featured in the NMI Showcase.

Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative Fellow Zachary Allen performs Mozart's Oboe Quartet.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

In addition, the showcase will include a music video from the Notes for Peace initiative, which empowers families who have lost children to gun violence to compose songs in memory of their loved ones. The featured song, titled “#TNDO,” was written in 2019 by Annette Flores, Neftali Reyes Sr., Sara Lee and Rex Horan, in honor of Neftali “Buzzo” Reyes Jr. (1998-2017), and was recorded at the Chicago Recording Company in 2020. The song’s lyrics highlight family memories of Reyes:

You were the best brother in the world
I loved it when you played with the girls
Respected your parents like we were gods
Went all out for your mom, against all the odds.

“Notes for Peace is a very personal project, in a lot of ways, working with families who have experienced loss due to gun violence, but it’s also a much broader mission in trying to build connections and peace within this community,” says Roslyn Green, a violist and former Civic Fellow who performs in the music video. “Chicago, and the country, have been afflicted by gun violence, and this is a way to build connections and healing through music.”

Vocalist Keanon Kyles performs "#TNDO,” a song composed in honor of Neftali “Buzzo” Reyes Jr. (1998-2017) through the Notes for Peace program.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

Concluding the program are performances by members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, including a string quartet, Above the Fray, by Nina Shekhar. This piece was selected through the Civic Fellows’ recent Call for Scores project, which garnered more than 200 submissions from composers across the United States. Shekhar’s quartet will be featured alongside works by four other contemporary composers in an upcoming episode of Civic Orchestra’s series on CSOtv.

In Above the Fray, Shekhar “deconstructs the Prelude to Bach’s First Cello Suite and creates a piece that’s totally new from these threads, which are so familiar to the listener,” says Civic Fellow Joe Bricker, who was part of the leadership team in the Call for Scores project.

Next, a larger ensemble of 44 Civic Orchestra musicians will perform an excerpt from Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, filmed onstage in Orchestra Hall with Principal Conductor Ken-David Masur on the podium. “It is such a joy to work with members of the Civic Orchestra as they are filled with curiosity, anticipation, a hunger for life and for the music,” says Masur.

In addition to these newly filmed performances, the showcase also will feature video highlights from several other programs of the Negaunee Music Institute, including the CSO for Kids and Orchestral Excerpts Insights series. Developed during the live concert hiatus, CSO for Kids videos combine storytelling and animation with performances by CSO musicians to introduce children to classical music. Orchestral Excerpts Insights, intended for older students and instrumentalists, features CSO musicians performing and sharing personal insights about musical excerpts that are regularly requested in orchestral auditions.

“This showcase is an introduction to some of the many people and programs that make up the Negaunee Music Institute,” says Jonathan McCormick, director of the Negaunee Music Institute. “It is also a celebration of a season that has been rich with creativity, resilience and impact. I hope viewers will be inspired by the amazing performances as well as the CSO’s deep commitment to education and community engagement.”