Riccardo Muti “Lifts Every Voice” at the Apostolic Church of God on Chicago’s South Side

By David Polk |

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Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 at October 13, 2016 community concert (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

As soon as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played the first four notes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, an audience of over 3,000 at the Apostolic Church of God on Chicago’s South Side broke into applause.

Riccardo Muti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director, stopped the orchestra, laughing, and said “This is a difficult beginning, so you are forcing me to try again! Can we try once more?”

The concert, which took place Thursday, October 13, 2016, marked Muti’s second visit to the church, located in the neighborhood of Woodlawn, where over 85% of the population is African American. Muti and the CSO first performed at the Apostolic Church of God in 2011.

This year’s concert also kicked off the CSO Association’s recently-announced new African American Network program, which seeks to develop audiences in African American communities. The initiative continues with a series of free chamber and Civic Orchestra concerts in South Side venues including the South Shore Cultural Center, Kenwood Academy, and the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago.

Pastor Byron Brazier began the evening with a statement welcoming the musicians, saying he was, “grateful that we are able to host the CSO.”

The audience was then treated to a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the official song of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), with a specially assembled chorus accompanied by members of the orchestra.

“Do not feel ashamed to stand up and to celebrate the heritage we all have, not just African Americans, but that we all have,” said Mr. Brazier as maestro Muti waved the audience to their feet.

The orchestra then continued with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3. At the end of the concert, Muti said he chose two works by Beethoven because of their “message of freedom, liberty, brotherhood…all the good feelings that little by little in the world are disappearing.”

Before leaving the stage, the Maestro invited everyone in the room to join the orchestra downtown. “We come to you, but we will be very, very happy to see you in our concert hall. Let’s make us a big family.”