In keeping with its practice of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in classical music, the Chicago Sinfonietta will be celebrating composers and performers from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning community in two Chicago-area concerts Saturday and Monday. Guest conductor Michael Morgan will lead the Sinfonietta’s More Than a Letter program of orchestral, piano, and vocal music. The orchestra will be joined onstage by the vocal ensemble from Curie High School, Musicality, which was recently featured on America’s Got Talent. The program also includes a performance by transgendered pianist Sara Davis Buechner and a second vocal ensemble, the Allegrezza Singers.
Vocal music will open and close the concert. Musicality starts with a performance of Stand in the Light by Lauren Christy and Stephan Moccio, and the Allegrezza Singers end with music by Leonard Bernstein, a quintet from West Side Story and the song Somewhere. Another Bernstein work on the program is the Candide Overture, and Samuel Barber’s Overture to the School for Scandal will open the concert’s second half. Other works include the Chicago premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Peachtree Street and David Conte’s Elegy for Matthew, written in honor of Matthew Shepard.
The highlight of the program is Buechner performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 34. These concerts will be her first appearances with the Sinfonietta, although she has performed with Michael Morgan in Oakland, Sacramento, and other venues. In an interview last week she expressed great pleasure at working with him. “He’s a wonderful conductor,” she said
Buechner has written and spoken extensively about her physical and emotional experience with the sex-change process, which she described as “fraught with difficulties, tragedies, and struggles.” In a 2013 article in the New York Times, Buechner documented her difficulties being a transgender person and having the actual operation.
Born in Baltimore in 1959 as David Buechner, she grew up in New York, where she started her performance and teaching career. Her operation, which took place in Thailand, was accompanied by several complications that required further surgeries when she returned to New York.
Before and after the procedure, Buechner found herself shunned by American orchestras and universities, unable to find academic positions or performance engagements. She moved to Canada, where she found far greater acceptance, welcome, and work.
Buechner recently moved back to the US when offered a position at Temple University in Philadelphia. While November’s election gave her pause, she said that she’s getting much more attention and performance opportunities in the US. “It has gotten so much better here,” she said “I’m finding a lot more acceptance.”
She is especially pleased with the reception she has gotten from young people, especially young LGBTQ musicians. “It is terribly satisfying to see that young people have such an easier time of it,” she explained. “People are less apt to make harsh judgments about you.”
Regarding her concert with the Chicago Sinfonietta, Buechner said that she doesn’t play Rachmaninoff all that often. “Michael requested it,” she explained, although it must not have taken much arm twisting: she loves playing the Rhapsody. Noting that Rachmaninoff wrote it toward the end of his life, she finds it to be “so rich and full of conviction, an expression of the love of life,” she said. She also admires the way the composer incorporated the Gregorian chant Dies Irae into the piece. “The Rhapsody is one of the finest works of any genre,” she averred.
Before the performances and during intermission, VideoOut will be showing coming-out videos. In its efforts to support the LGBTQ community, VidoeOut has gathered a large collection of videos of coming-out stories and will be making new ones in Chicago on Sunday, March 26. Members of the LGBTQ community and their friends may record their stories from 11:00 am-4:00 pm at the Alphawood Gallery at 2401 N Halsted Street.
Saturday’s Naperville performance will be at Wentz Concert Hall of North Central College, March 25, 8:00 pm, $48-$60, $10 for students. Monday’s Chicago performance will be at Symphony Center, March 27, 7:30 pm, $18-$99, $10 for students. For more information about the concerts and the VideoOut recording session, see chicagosinfonietta.org.