Paul Freeman 1936-2015

Fri Jul 24, 2015 at 2:28 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Conductor Paul Freeman died Tuesday, age 79.
Conductor Paul Freeman died Tuesday, age 79.

Paul Freeman, founder and longtime music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta, died Tuesday night in Victoria, British Columbia, age 79. He had been in frail health in recent years.

Freeman was a pioneering figure on the U.S. classical music landscape as one of the few African-American conductors. Born in Virginia and trained at the Eastman School, Freeman served as associate conductor of the Dallas Symphony and Detroit Symphony. He found more podium opportunities and greater acclaim in Europe.

Freeman founded the Chicago Sinfonietta in 1987 as an ensemble emphasizing diversity and providing performance opportunities for black, Latin and minority musicians.  He served as its music director for 24 years. The diversity of its members also extended to the Sinfonietta’s quirky and genre-crossing repertory, which continues today under current music director Mei-Ann Chen.

Along with the Sinfonietta, Freeman’s most lasting legacy is likely to be his advocacy for music of black composers, most prominently in the nine-disc Columbia series he recorded in the 1970s, which is long overdue for reissue. Freeman and the Sinfonietta later resurrected the project with the African Heritage Symphonic Series for the Cedille label.

Freeman is survived by his wife Cornelia and son Douglas.

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