Maestro Paul Freeman Passes the Baton

Chicago Sinfonietta Founder and Maestro Paul Freeman will retire as the conductor of the Chicago Sinfonietta, after 24 years at the post, at the end of the 2010-2011 season was the official announcement made by the Sinfonietta earlier this summer.

His successor was named as Mei-Ann Chen only after a more than a 2 year search once Maestro Freeman decided it was time to retire. Maestra Chen will be the first Music Director ever to succeed Maestro Freeman.

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Carmen C. Rivera, Maestro Paul Freeman and incoming Maestra Mei-Ann Chen

Photo by Zondra Hughes

I have adored Maestro Freeman’s performances for many years. I actually started going to the Sinfonietta, as well as other performances at the CSO shortly after my (now 15 year old) son began to play the violin at school when he was 8 years old. It has been a wonderful musical journey for the both of us and we have always looked forward to the Sinfonietta’s program, year after year.

I must admit, I was really unsure of how I felt about the whole thing when I arrived at the luncheon held for the retirement of the Maestro. As soon as I arrived to greet him, I gave him a hug and expressed to him how much I loved his work. He smiled proudly and as always, with his charm and graciousness, he assured me that we were in good hands. He has always been such an important figure in the industry and I was worried about what would be next.

The Maestro in true gentlemanly fashion made sure to introduce me to his successor, Maestra Mei-Ann Chen. I spoke with her briefly, explained my love for the Sinfonietta’s program as well as my adoration for Maestro Friedman. She was a very kind woman and clearly has her own love and dedication for the art. I’m certain after hearing her speak at the luncheon about her journeys and triumphs throughout her career; the Maestro has left us in truly capable hands.

I am not entirely won over just yet but will admit that I am pleased that the Chicago Sinfonietta’s executive board was careful to choose a person with the true passion that Maestro Freeman has created for the Sinfonietta… AND, Executive Director noted that Maestro Freeman would still be around to consult for a bit longer.

Maestro Freeman is a pioneering figure who has led the way for minority musicians and conductors but for the art itself and the true variety of guest conductors from all walks of life. I’ve never seen anything like it and I frequent performances at the CSO throughout all the seasons.

After dozens of performances and special guest conductors, my son is still in love with playing the violin. I’m grateful to the organization as a whole for that feat. It’s not easy keeping inner-city youth interested in such arts so I do hope the Sinfonietta continues to move in the direction it was created to move for– the right for any child, no matter what background, to be able to fill a seat at the CSO or any other orchestra hall in the world.

I, as well as many other fans of Maestro Freeman, will miss him dearly at the helm at Orchestra Hall. I wish him the best on his retirement and also welcome Maestra Mei-Ann Chen to our gorgeous city and all the culture and diversity it has to offer at Orchestra Hall. 


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  • Hi Carmen,

    I work for a sports PR agency called Sportivo in Los Angeles ( and was wondering if I could email you information about an event with Nike coming up in October. My email is

    I look forward to hearing from you!


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