Review: Chicago Sinfonietta premieres Thompson’s “breathe/burn,” honoring Breonna Taylor

Posted on: March 31, 2021

Since the Chicago Sinfonietta’s annual Martin Luther King Day concert could not take place in person in January, “the Sinfonietta recorded ‘The Arc,’ its first virtual MLK concert … on March 20 and streamed it Sunday,” writes Hannah Edgar in Tuesday’s (3/30) Chicago Tribune. “The delay enabled the Sinfonietta to safely gather the necessary forces (about 40 musicians) for ‘breathe/burn,’ a world-premiere cello concerto by Joel Thompson.… The eight-minute ‘breathe/burn’ ” honors Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was slain by police officers in her Louisville, Kentucky home in March 2020. “Lyrical, keening, embittered, tired—Thompson taps into a universe of emotions, and in doing so unspools some of the most arresting orchestral writing I’ve heard in recent memory…. ‘breathe/burn’s’ impassioned advocates [were] cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing and Project Inclusion conductor fellow Antoine T. Clark…. Ali-Landing plays with the kind of empathy, insight, and determination that is enviable for any performer… not to mention her laser-focused connection with the Sinfonietta and Clark, who led from the podium with balletic poise.” Music Director Mei-Ann Chen led works including Dances in the Canebrakes, William Grant Still’s arrangement of a Florence Price suite; Jeff Scott’s 2018 Sinfonietta of Dreams; and Roy Ringwald’s arrangement of “We Shall Overcome.”