Notes and Editorial Reviews
Conductor Mei-Ann Chen and the Chicago Sinfonietta — the adventurous, MacArthur Award-winning orchestra that champions racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in classical music — give world-premiere recordings of newly commissioned American works by Jennifer Higdon, Clarice Assad, Jessie Montgomery, and Reena Esmail on Project W: Works by Diverse Women Composers, the capstone project of its 30th anniversary season. Higdon, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and two Grammy Awards, invites listeners to luxuriate in the beauty of a virtuosic string orchestra with Dance Card, a five-moment suite that San Francisco Classical Voice praised for its “pleasurable sounds” and “intellectual heft.” Assad is a Grammy-nominated, Brazilian-American composer and performer. Her Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) lives up to its title with an exotic blend of musical influences from throughout the Americas. Juilliard-trained African-American composer Montgomery, a violinist member of the acclaimed Catalyst Quartet and a collaborator with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble, imbues her Coincident Dances with the frenetic energy and multicultural sound worlds of her native New York City. Esmail, an Indian-American graduate of Juilliard and the Yale School of Music, draws from Western and Hindustani (north Indian) classical music for #metoo, a composition rooted in her own personal experiences. Founded by pioneering African-American conductor Paul Freeman (1936–2015), the Chicago Sinfonietta also presents the first-ever recording William Grant Still’s orchestral arrangement of Florence Price’s buoyant, lyrical Dances in the Canebrakes.
Mei-Ann Chen and the Chicago Sinfonietta give charming, well-executed performances of these works, including one by Florence Price arranged by William Grant Still that will remind you so much of Gershwin that you’ll be sorry that she hasn’t been in your life until now. Clarice Assad’s Sin Fronteras is a generous, grand work whose lushness is in full tilt from the beginning. Jessie Montgomery’s Coincident Dances is rousing, sneaky, and has rhythms you’ll be bouncing your head and tapping your feet to. Reena Esmail gets to show off her wildly impressive vocal skills here in Charukeshi Bandish. Jennifer Higdon’s Dance Card is a classic, full of color and prismatic harmonies. You will not be disappointed when you add this to your collection.
– American Record Guide (Stephanie Boyd)