Summertime, and there's good music for everyone at Grant Park Festival

March 03, 2011

by John von Rhein Chicago Tribune

Compelling programming that is several cuts above the norm, along with an interesting artists roster, explain why the Grant Park Music Festival has become the place to be for Chicagoans in search of hot-weather musical diversion every summer in the heart of downtown. The Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park is a classy experience all by itself. And it's all free for the taking.

The 77th Grant Park season will mark the start of Carlos Kalmar's second decade as principal conductor of the Grant Park Orchestra and Christopher Bell's 10th season as director of the Grant Park Chorus ensembles any major cultural center would be proud to call their own.

There will be 31 classical and pop concerts from June 15 to Aug. 20 at the Pritzker Pavilion and adjacent Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

The post of executive director, left open in January by Elizabeth Hurley's sudden departure to become the Art Institute's vice president for development, is being filled on an interim basis by Leigh Levine. The festival expects to name Hurley's successor this summer.

Kalmar's influence in the area of artistic planning will be felt even more strongly this year. Prominent among his programs are such big choral and vocal works as the Verdi Requiem, Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 2 ("Lobgesang"), Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" and Franz Schmidt's rarely heard masterpiece, the 1935-37 oratorio "The Book with Seven Seals." He also will preside over programs featuring jazz violinist Regina Carter (as both soloist and composer) and Latin American symphonic works.

Along with preparing the chorus for the first half of the season, Bell will direct a program of American a cappella choral pieces, a pairing of the Faure Requiem and Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms," and the annual Independence Celebration (date and location to be announced).

The Grant Park Chorus' first full-length recording with the orchestra, a program of Pulitzer-Prize winning works taped last season under Kalmar's direction, will be released this summer.

The guest roster will bring a mixture of familiar and new faces, including the eminent Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, in a rare U.S. appearance. Other conductors include Andrew Grams, Hannu Lintu, Alondra de la Parra, Randall Craig Fleischer and Kwame Ryan. Soloists include violinist Jennifer Koh, pianist Jean-Philippe Collard, guitarist David Russell and singers Amber Wagner and Kyle Ketelson.

Among the more intriguing repertory items are Sibelius' epic "Kullervo" symphony, Rachmaninov's "Spring" cantata, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 and Billy Childs' Violin Concerto, a memorial to Iraq war victims. Members of Lyric Opera's Ryan Opera Center will present Mozart's comic opera "The Impresario" along with Donizetti and Rossini excerpts.

New this year is a youth education program undertaken in partnership with the Chicago Park District. More than 900 children will participate in half-day programs at Millennium Park that are to include attending open rehearsals, interacting with musicians and creating visual art.

Fine arts radio station WFMT (98.7 FM) plans to broadcast at least eight concerts live from Pritzker Pavilion.

Season memberships, including reserved seating in the pavilion or access to reserved sections, begin at $135. Also available are $75 memberships for those wishing to support the festival but who do not want special seating privileges. For membership information, call 312-742-7638 or visit