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Chicago Sinfonietta founder Paul Freeman (1936-2015)

Maestro Paul Freeman who, for 24 years was the Music Director of the Chicago Sinfonietta – a post he held since his founding of the orchestra in 1987 – died Wednesday morning, July 22. He was 79 and, according to a statement issued by the orchestra, he had been fighting a number of physical challenges over the last few years.

His family, including his wife, Cornelia, and his son, Douglas, are planning a private ceremony in Victoria, British Columbia, where he lived, as well as a public memorial service to be held in Chicago sometime in September.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Maestro Freeman established himself as one of America’s leading conductors. In 1996, he was appointed music director and chief conductor of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Prague, a position he held simultaneously with his Chicago Sinfonietta post. From 1979 to 1989, he served as music director of the Victoria Symphony in Canada, principal guest conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic in Finland, associate conductor of the Dallas and Detroit Symphony Orchestras, and music director of the Opera Theatre of Rochester, New York.

Maestro Paul Freeman

Maestro Paul Freeman

A recipient of the Mahler Award from the European Union of Arts, Freeman led more than 100 orchestras in more than 30 countries. As one of America’s most successful recording conductors, he has approximately 200 releases to his credit.

Freeman’s nine-LP series tracing the history of black symphonic composers from 1750 to the present garnered a great deal of attention on the Columbia label in the mid-1970s. In collaboration with pianist Derek Han, he recorded all the piano concertos of Mozart (nine CDs with the London Philharmonic), Haydn (two CDs with the English Chamber Orchestra) and Beethoven (three CDs with the Berlin Symphony). Freeman has been involved in more than a dozen televised orchestra productions in North America and Europe. And he has been nominated for two Emmy Awards.

The December 2000 issue of Fanfare magazine proclaimed Maestro Freeman “one of the finest conductors our nation has produced.” Freeman led several recordings by both the Chicago Sinfonietta and Czech National Symphony, including his landmark three volume African Heritage Symphonic Series for Cedille Records.

Dr. Freeman received his Ph.D. from the Eastman School of Music and studied on a U.S. Fulbright Grant in Berlin. He has garnered a number of awards, including the top prize in the Mitropoulos International Conducting Competition and honorary doctorate degrees from Dominican and Loyola Universities.

In 2005, Maestro Freeman was designated a HistoryMaker, having been nominated by the DuSable Museum of African American History for his outstanding contributions to African American life, history, and culture.

Maestro Freeman’s talent was summarized in the following quotation from the late Robert Marsh, longtime music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times: “Freeman conducts performances which are remarkable for their beauty and communicative force. He brings the sound of the Chicago Sinfonietta to the heights of angels.”