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Gateways Music Festival makes Chicago debut with weeklong residency (April 15–19), culminating with full orchestral concert featuring Anthony Parnther & Take 6

The Gateways Music Festival in association with Eastman School of Music makes its long-awaited Chicago debut with a weeklong spring residency (April 15–19). After opening with a chamber program featuring special guest narrator Phylicia Rashad, this culminates with a full orchestral concert led by Anthony Parnther, with a set by vocal sextet Take 6. Representing the Einal chapter of Gateways’ milestone 30th anniversary celebrations, this landmark debut highlights the organization’s success in rewriting the classical music narrative by connecting and supporting professional classical musicians of African descent, while enlightening and inspiring audiences through the power of performance.

The Chicago residency builds on Gateways’ recent Kennedy Center debut and its achievements in New York last fall. After launching in Rochester, the festival came to New York City for four days of events, crowned by the Gateways Chamber Players’ sold-out Carnegie Hall debut at Zankel Hall, where the New York Times found their program “characteristic of a festival that has consistently emphasized the contributions of Black composers.” Citing the “camaraderie and visibility” Gateways promotes, the New York Times noted “the festival’s transformative power.” Small wonder that outgoing Gateways President & Artistic Director Lee Koonce has just been awarded the League of American Orchestras’ Gold Baton and was recently named among Musical America’s “Top 30 Professionals” of 2023; as the magazine observed, Koonce has helped “ensure the health of the artform and its essential value in our lives, now and for generations to come.”

Koonce is now succeeded by Alexander Laing, who inaugurated his appointment as Gateways’ incoming President & Artistic Director at the beginning of January. Himself named one of Musical America’s “30 Movers and Shapers” of 2017, Laing says:

“Chicago has a vibrant heartbeat within the rich tradition of Black classical music; it’s a city where the legacy and innovation of this genre intersect and amplify each other. As Gateways Music Festival marks its debut here, we’re not just celebrating our 30th anniversary; we’re honoring the spirit of a city that has been a cradle and a catalyst for Black musicians and composers for generations. Gateways is a testament to the enduring power and evolving story of Black classical music, and we are excited and honored to contribute to this narrative in a place that resonates so deeply with our mission.”

When the recently formed Gateways Chamber Players made their sold-out Eirst appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall earlier this season, it was with a pairing of The Soldier’s Tale Suite by Igor Stravinsky and A Fiddler’s Tale by Wynton Marsalis. Now this same program is the vehicle for Gateways’ upcoming Chicago debut at Northwestern University. As in New York, both works will feature violinist Tai Murray, a musician of “exceptional assurance and style” (Philadelphia Inquirer), and TV and stage legend Phylicia Rashad will make a special guest appearance as the narrator in A Fiddler’s Tale (April 15).

Gateways Music Festival Digital Image 300 x 250

Now in their First season, the Chamber Players represent some of the nation’s leading classical musicians. The spring 2024 roster comprises award-winning conductor Damien Sneed, Imani Winds bassoonist Monica Ellis, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra trumpeter Billy Hunter, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra trombonist Weston Sprott, former Los Angeles Philharmonic percussion fellow Wesley Sumpter, Columbus Symphony double bassist Patricia Weitzel and new Gateways’ President and former Phoenix Symphony clarinetist Alexander Laing.

The Chamber Players’ Northwestern concert launches a weeklong spring residency in Chicago. This culminates with a full performance hosted by Symphony Center Presents, the presenting arm of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At that ensemble’s home in Orchestra Hall, the Gateways Festival Orchestra will perform under the baton of Anthony Parnther, who previously led its sold-out Carnegie Hall debut in 2022. “A conductor for the future” with “a Wlourishing career” (New York Times), Parnther recently made debuts with the New York Philharmonic, in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s subscription series, and at London’s BBC Proms. Now he helms the Gateways Festival Orchestra’s accounts of Edward Elgar’s iconic

“Enigma” Variations and works by two African American composers with Chicago connections. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, who served as Artistic Director of the Center for Black Music Research at the city’s Columbia College, is represented by his concert overture Worship (2001) and Chicago native Margaret Bonds by her Montgomery Variations (1964). Depicting Black resistance to segregation in the Jim Crow South, Bonds’s programmatic variations are dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. Together with these orchestral works, Gateways’ program features a special set by eight-time Grammy-winning vocal sextet Take 6, whom legendary producer Quincy Jones considers the “baddest vocal cats on the planet.” After the concert, there will be a reception hosted by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s African American Network (April 19).

The Gateways Festival Orchestra’s Orchestra Hall debut concludes a full week of events in Chicago. “Virtuoso pianist” Artina McCain (New York Times) and Global Music Awardwinning bass trombonist Martin McCain curate a program of chamber music at St. Mark United Methodist Church (April 16). The Gateways Brass Collective, the nation’s only all-Black professional brass quintet, blends traditional chamber repertoire with jazz and more in the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert series in downtown Chicago (April 17). Stewart Goodyear, recognized as “one of the best pianists of his generation” (Philadelphia Inquirer), gives a solo piano recital at Northwestern University, with a program combining works by J.S. Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George, with one of his own (April 17). Gateways completes the residency with two events at Chicago’s South Shore Cultural Center: a Paul J. Burgett lecture & community conversation and a chamber concert showcasing Chicago-based musicians of African descent (April 18).

About Gateways Music Festival

The mission of Gateways Music Festival is to connect and support professional classical musicians of African descent and enlighten and inspire communities through the power of performance. Founded in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1993 by noted concert pianist Armenta Hummings Dumisani, the festival was brought to Rochester, New York in 1997 when Hummings Dumisani joined the Eastman School of Music faculty. Approximately 125 musicians – comprising players in major symphony orchestras, faculty from renowned music schools and conservatories, and active freelance artists – participate in each festival. In 2016, while remaining an independent non-profit organization, Gateways formalized its longstanding relationship with Eastman and the University of Rochester. Among other mutual benefits, this deepened relationship provided much of the infrastructure and resources necessary for Gateways to increase its programming capacity, appoint its first paid staff position and broaden its impact in and beyond Rochester. In addition to the annual full-orchestra festival held each spring, other Gateways initiatives include a yearly chamber music festival each fall; the Gateways Showcase, a social media campaign designed to shed light on the extraordinary stories, artistic achievements and indelible impact of Black classical musicians; the Gateways Brass Collective, the only all-Black professional brass quintet in the country; the Gateways Residency, by which renowned Gateways artists are presented nationwide throughout the year in recitals, masterclasses and community- based activities; the Gateways Chamber Players, an all-star touring ensemble featuring some of the nation’s most renowned classical musicians; and, since January 2023, Gateways Radio, a one- hour syndicated radio program featuring Black classical artists on radio stations across the United States.

Gateways Music Festival: Chicago debut

April 15–19 Chicago, IL

Mon, April 15
Northwestern University
(Pick-Staiger Concert Hall)
Gateways Chamber Players / Damien Sneed,
conductor Tai Murray, violin
Igor STRAVINSKY: The Soldier’s Tale Suite
Wynton MARSALIS: A Fiddler’s Tale (with Phylicia Rashad, special guest narrator)

Tues, April 16
St. Mark United Methodist Church
Chamber Music Concert I
Curated by Artina McCain, piano; Martin McCain, bass trombone

Wed, April 17
Seventeenth Church of
Christ, Scientist
Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert series
Gateways Brass Collective

Wed, April 17
Northwestern University (Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall)
Stewart Goodyear, piano 
Stewart GOODYEAR: Acabris! Acabras! Acabram!
Joseph BOLOGNE: Adagio in F minor
Johann Sebastian BACH: French Suite No. 5 in G, BWV 816
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli

Thurs, April 18
South Shore Cultural Center (venue TBA)
Paul J. Burgett Lecture & Community Conversation
Details TBA

Thurs, April 18
South Shore Cultural Center (Paul Robeson Theatre)
Chamber Music Concert II
Featuring Caitlin Edwards, violin, and other Chicago-based classical musicians of African descent

Fri, April 19
Orchestra Hall (debut)
Gateways Festival Orchestra / Anthony Parnther, conductor
Take 6, guest artist 
Edward ELGAR: Variations on an Original Theme (“Enigma”), Op. 36

Margaret BONDS: Montgomery Variations
Coleridge-Taylor PERKINSON: Worship: A Concert Overture
Selections by Take 6: TBA

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