2023 CYSO Gala Celebrates Women in Music with Record Crowd

The 2023 CYSO Gala: Women in Music took place at Chicago’s The Geraghty on Saturday, February 25. Celebrating pioneering women who continue to pave the way in music, CYSO was proud to bring together board members, parents, alumni, and supporters for this special evening. The event broke previous attendance Gala records, bringing together nearly 500 people and raising more than $680,000 to support CYSO’s award-winning training programs for the next generation of young musicians.

The evening began with cocktail hour, where guests sipped on signature drinks (“The Maestra” and one named for Laurie Anderson’s song, “Beautiful Red Dress”) and enjoyed music from members of CYSO’s Preparatory Strings, one of our youngest ensembles. Throughout the evening, each ensemble performed pieces that were written by, made famous by, or arranged by women musicians. For Prep Strings, this meant crowd favorites including Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

Guests posed in front of the elaborate 70’s-inspired floral step and repeat, complete with flowers that rotated against the backdrop. As they mingled, attendees also admired “concert posters” depicting women musicians whose works would be performed that evening, as well as posters highlighting the evening’s honorees: Mesirow’s Natalie A. Brown, Director of String Ensembles Daniella Valdez, and groundbreaking artist/musician and CYSO alum Laurie Anderson.

At 7:00 pm, Symphony Orchestra and then Kaiso Steel Orchestra took the stage, welcoming guests to their tables with performances of Ellen Taafe Zwilich’s Avanti! (Fanfare for Jerry) and Vanessa Headley’s Pan in D Galaxy. On the table, supporters were each welcomed with an individual trading card highlighting an important woman in music.

Co-Chairs Pamella Der and Richard Blessen welcomed the crowd, followed by opening remarks from the evening’s emcee, WGN anchor and investigative reporter Lourdes Duarte. CYSO student “Gala Guides” welcomed guests at VIP tables as dinner was served.

As guests finished their meal, Music Director Allen Tinkham took the stage for a heartfelt tribute to CYSO’s late Associate Conductor, Terrance Malone Gray. Gray was CYSO’s longest serving staff member, training thousands of students over nearly 30 years with the organization. His sudden passing last summer has left a void for many in the CYSO community and Maestro’s remarks were a fitting tribute to a well-loved and much-missed friend, mentor, and conductor.

Next up was the evening’s live auction, where guests bid on luxury trip packages to Mexico, Paris, Belize, and more, followed by Symphony Orchestra’s next set. Maestro Tinkham provided context before each, including Lili Boulanger’s d’un Matin de Printemps, Benediction from Montgomery Variations by Margaret Allison Bonds (one of the first Black classical composers and performers to gain recognition in the U.S.), and the finale to Symphony no. 1 by Florence Price (the first Black woman to have her work played by CSO).

Next up was the scholarship paddle raise. The stage was set by a new short video from Green River Films highlighting CYSO’s work, as told through the voices of our own young musicians. The audience laughed and cried watching the young musicians speak eloquently about what they’ve learned through CYSO. Interim Executive Director Madalyne Tregellas Maxwell drove the point home as she spoke about how vital donor support is in making CYSO’s work possible. Guests were moved to raise nearly $160,000 to go toward CYSO financial assistance and keeping tuition affordable for all families.

Jazz Orchestra took the stage next, accompanied by special guest vocalist, Chicago jazz legend Dee Alexander. The group performed three pieces, including Mongo Santamaria and Oscar Brown’s Afro Blue, made famous by Abbey Lincoln, and Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson’s I Just Found Out About Love.

This year’s three Note of Excellence awards were presented next. First was Mesirow’s Natalie A. Brown, presented to her by former colleague and CYSO Board member Shawn O’Leary. Brown spoke about being a “joy seeker” and praised CYSO’s young musicians for finding and spreading joy through their music.

Next, Accelerando Strings musician Danielle Diaz took the podium to present her conductor, CYSO Director of String Ensembles Daniella Valdez, with the Note of Excellence. Diaz spoke about finding a mentor in Valdez, and as she took the stage, Valdez noted that she and Diaz are “tocaya,” having the same name. In her speech, Valdez spoke about finding a musical home in Chicago through her work with CYSO and how her role has allowed her to grow and challenge herself as an educator.

Finally, co-chairs Pamella Der and Richard Blessen presented the Note of Excellence Award to Laurie Anderson, a 1965 CYSO alum whose five-decade career spans the worlds of art, theater, experimental music, and technology. In her remarks, Anderson spoke of how as a young person, music and art became inseparable in her mind when each weekend she would attend CYSO and then walk over to the Art Institute for painting class. She also noted how many more options are available for young people in the music field today than there were when she was young and encouraged students to explore their passion and all the opportunities available to them.

Following the awards, Kaiso Steel Orchestra began their final performance. Pans were set up on a dance floor surrounded by guest tables, creating an intimate and energetic atmosphere for the students to present two pieces arranged by Yuko Asada, an important figure in the international steelpan community. The group performed Frank Sinatra’s My Way and Adele’s Rolling in the Deep.

Finally, Symphony Orchestra took the stage for the final set of the night. First up was Rising Storm, composed by 11-year-old Sylvia Pine, a member of CYSO’s Philharmonic Orchestra. Maestro Tinkham explained that he chose that piece to show the breadth of women’s achievement in music. After the young composer joined Maestro to be recognized, Laurie Anderson joined students on stage. Set up on her own small stage in front of the orchestra, Anderson was surrounded by her rig, including a keyboard and her tape bow violin, laptop and iPad. She led students in a medley of some of her most celebrated works, including pieces “From the Air,” “Heart of a Dog,” and a poignant spoken word meditation on”Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Her performance was ranged from heavy to ethereal, improvised to well-known. It was an experience that students, and the audience, will not soon forget.

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who attended, donated, spread the word, performed, volunteered, and cheered on our 2023 Gala. We are so grateful for the support of the CYSO community.

Thank you to our Gala Co-chairs Pamella Der & Wei Shih and Laura Mandel & Richard Blessen. Thank you as well to our Host Committee: Anonymous, Saurab & Anjani Bhargava, Willard Bransky, Rebecca & Josh Butler, Louanne Carabini & Shawn O’Leary, Michael Lobash & Laura Cordell, Jon & Stacie Dennis, Sara & Scott Fisher, Mary & Lionel Go, Dr. Jana L. French & Peter M. Gotsch, Rachel Lang & Allen Tinkham, Madalyne Maxwell, Angela & Dana O’Banion, Cynthia Van Osdol & John Sandwick, Stephen & Terry Schwartz, Ross Bricker & Nina Vinik, Brittany Viola & Justin Bernbrock.

We are also grateful to our generous lead Gala sponsors: Sheppard Mullin; Jenner & Block and the Bricker Vinik Familiy; Cynthia Van Osdol & John Sandwick; Brittany Viola & Justin Bernbrock; US Bank; Conagra; Mesirow; Old National Bank; Richard & Linda Price; Pritzker Traubert Foundation; Stephen & Terry Schwartz

More information on the Gala and complete photo galleries can be found here.

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