Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, & Chicago Music Students Launch Surprise Performance in the James R. Thompson Center

Imagine that you’re eating lunch in the food court, when suddenly, Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma begin to perform. That’s exactly what happened for hundreds of lunchtime diners on the lower level of the James R. Thompson Center. Fleming, Ma, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a Lyric Opera of Chicago pianist, and 100 high school chorus members from Lake View High School, Chicago High School for the Arts, and the Merit School of Music collaborated in a surprise performance from 12:30-1 PM on March 19.

The concert kicked off with Lake View music teacher Catherine Mascari  leading the high school singers in a performance of the South African folksong, “Tshotsholoza”. Next, Fleming, Ma, and Lyric pianist Matthew Piatt performed Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise”.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn introduced and thanked the performers, spoke about the important role the arts play in everyone’s lives, and invited everyone to sing along with an arrangement of “America the Beautiful” by Cliff Colnot. Fleming led the singing, accompanied by Ma and CSO musicians Jennifer Gunn (flute), Xiomara Mass (oboe), J. Lawrie Bloom (clarinet), William Buchman (bassoon), Susanna Gaunt (Horn), and David Griffin (Horn). A video of the surprise concert is available at

Earlier that morning, Fleming, Ma, musicians from the CSO, and a Lyric pianist visited Lake View High School, a Chicago Public School High school known for its excellence in arts education. The artists visited three classrooms and participated in a school-white assembly led by Damien Woetzel, director of the Aspen Institute’s Arts Program and former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Choral students from the Merit School of Music and Chicago High School for the Arts joined students from Lake View High School, CSO musicians, and the Lyric pianist for a performance during the assembly.

The events are part of the CSO’s Citizen Musician initiative and Lyric’s Renée Fleming Initiative. The CSO’s program calls on musicians, music lovers, music teachers and institutions to use the art form as a way to create community and transform lives. You can check out our previous post, as well as for more information.

The Renée Fleming Initiative collaborates with Chicago arts institutions to promote Chicago as a center of culture, and increase opera audiences and awareness through educational partnerships, marketing, and expanded programming. More information is available at

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2 comments on “Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, & Chicago Music Students Launch Surprise Performance in the James R. Thompson Center
  1. This event and others going on in Chicago are the most positive expression we can
    give to the life of the city. The understanding of the arts are the food of the soul
    that help people rise above all the chaos of urban life, political stress, polarization,
    gang dangers, racial hatred and countless other problems that plague our times.

    Keep the music coming!!!

    • Hi Elsa, thanks so much for your comment! I agree – music and the arts are a wonderful way to bring the community together and rise above negative influences. It’s great to see artists like Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma going out into the community to bring music to the masses.

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