The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the death of Chicago Sinfonietta founder and music director emeritus Paul Freeman, acclaimed worldwide as one of the foremost advocates of diversity in classical music. After coping with physical ailments in recent years, he passed away late on July 21 at his home in British Columbia, with his wife and son at his side.
Though he never conducted the CSO, Maestro Freeman was a frequent visitor to Orchestra Hall, the downtown performance base of the Chicago Sinfonietta. In 1987, he founded the Sinfonietta as a mid-size orchestra dedicated to the causes of promoting diversity, innovative programming and celebrating the legacies of minority composers. After his retirement in 2011, he became the Sinfonietta’s music director emeritus. In 1996, he also became music director and chief conductor of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Prague.
Dubbing the Sinfonietta as “The World’s Most Diverse Orchestra,” Maestro Freeman passionately worked toward “opening the doors of classical music to everyone.” In a 1996 feature, written by cultural critic Andrew Patner and published in the Chicago Sun-Times, the maestro observed: “I have always been a dreamer. But growing up in segregation, to have fulfilled my personal dreams and to have helped to found an entity that brings dreams to others, even I sometimes can’t believe what we’ve done.”
Born Jan. 2, 1936, in Richmond, Va., Maestro Freeman earned bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees from the Eastman School of Music. He won a Fulbright Scholarship and then studied for two years at the Hochshule für Musik in Berlin, and later studied conducting with legendary maestro Pierre Monteaux. Before coming to Chicago, he held posts with the Opera Theatre of Rochester, in Rochester, N.Y.; the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (associate conductor, 1968-70); the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (1970-79), and Helsinki Phiharmonic (principal guest conductor).
In 2005, the DuSable Museum of African American History designated him as a History Maker for his outstanding contributions to African-American life, history and culture.
After Maestro Freeman’s retirement in 2011, the Sinfonietta added this observation to its mission statement: “As the Chicago Sinfonietta begins its next chapter of presenting one-of-a-kind concerts, inspiring young students to pursue music as a life-long passion or career, and serving as the model for diversity, inclusion and innovation, it is clear that Paul Freeman’s dream of a special orchestra in Chicago has become a reality.”
His family is planning a private ceremony in Victoria, British Columbia, and a public memorial in Chicago in September.
For a statement from the Chicago Sinfonietta on Maestro Freeman’s legacy, click here.