Two World Premieres in Grant Park Music Festival Season

February 11, 2014

by Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun-Times

The 80th anniversary season of the popular Grant Park Music Festival promises to build on its many strengths this summer (remember summer?) with two world premieres from American composers among its 30 free classical orchestral and choral concerts over 10 weeks at its Millennium Park Pritzker Pavilion home.

Pulitzer Prize winner William Bolcom is writing a season-closing Concerto for Orchestra (Aug. 15-16) and will also serve as a special composer in residence. Christopher Theofanidis offers a new work accompanied in conjunction with astronomer and projection artist Jose Francisco Salgado and the Adler Planetarium,”The Legend of the Northern Lights” (Aug. 8-9).

Principal conductor and artistic director Carlos Kalmar — who will lead both premieres — has invited two former musical leaders of the festival for a podium weekend each: Leonard Slatkin, music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, who presided over two summers in the 1970s, will conduct July 25-26 and Hugh Wolff, principal conductor here for four seasons in the 1990s, is on tap for July 18-19.

Singers from Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Center will join the Grant Park Orchestra for Bolcom’s “Cabaret Songs” (Aug. 13). The schedule also includes top international soloists, including pianist Stephen Hough (July 18-19) and violinist Stefan Jackiw (June 18), whose opening-night appearance was canceled last year for a storm that never came. Rising cellist (and Chicago native) Gabriel Cabezas appears July 2.

The festival opens June 11 with Kalmar and young Russian-born American pianist Natasha Paremski playing the less-heard Tchaikovsky Second Concerto. Other Kalmar highlights include the Berlioz “Romeo and Juliet” with Christopher Bell’s superb Grant Park Chorus, mezzo Julie Boulianne and tenor Paul Appleby (June 13 and 14); unusual symphony selections of Dvorak (June 18) and Elgar (June 20-21), and a Viva Mexico! evening with Grammy winners Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano (June 25). Janacek’s powerful Glagolitic Mass will feature Christine Goerke and Jill Grove, stars of Lyric Opera’s “Elektra” last season (June 27-28), and Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins” showcases Pink Martini vocalist Storm Large (Aug. 6). Bell will lead the Independence Day concert July 4 at 6:30 p.m. There will be no full-scale Broadway show or composers program this year but an Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong tribute concert is set for July 9.

Two prominent touring youth orchestras will visit Grant Park: Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Symphony conducted by St. Louis Symphony Orchestra music director David Robertson with soloist Gil Shaham in the Britten Violin Concerto (July 28) and the Portland Youth Philharmonic, the oldest such U.S. ensemble (July 5).

Planetary visuals are the plan July 16 with BBC/Discovery Channel composer-conductor George Fenton’s underwater “Blue Planet.”

The festival runs June 11-Aug. 16, with most concerts on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Memberships starting at $157 support the not-for-profit Festival and include admission to the reserved seating areas.

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