New Director to Build on Solid Foundation

February 18, 2010

New director looks to partnerships with Grant Park Music Festival this summer and beyond.

Like the mythic god Janus, the Grant Park Music Festival this summer will look backward and forward at the same time.

The 76th season of free outdoor classical music concerts by the Grant Park Orchestra in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park will be the first to be administered by Elizabeth Hurley, who succeeded James W. Palermo as executive director in December.

Even so, in virtually every respect the 20 programs, running June 16 to Aug. 21, were planned by principal conductor Carlos Kalmar...Palermo's departure for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in March of last year.

And that's fine with Hurley, the former development director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera, who heartily endorses the partnerships with the Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera's Ryan Opera Center and other performers and ensembles booked by her predecessor. In fact, she's got more up her own sleeve.

"I am by nature a collaborative individual," Hurley says. "One of the really important things we can do is continue to introduce audiences to as many of our colleague organizations in the city as possible."

Having taken up her new duties in Chicago only three days after leaving the Met's employ, Hurley returned to the home she and husband Mark had been maintaining here, only to face "a whirlwind" of responsibilities. Two months later, things have settled down and she is coping just fine, she reports.

It was her extensive fundraising and management expertise that particularly recommended her to the search committee, among whose members was Kalmar, who will be celebrating his 10th season as principal conductor of the Grant Park Orchestra this summer.

Hurley will play a role in helping to raise the $2 million of the festival's $4 million operating budget that is not covered by the Chicago Park District, which pays the salaries of Kalmar, chorus director Christopher Bell, and members of the orchestra and Grant Park Chorus.

The remaining $2 million, to be raised through memberships and private philanthropy, goes toward funding soloists and such major collaborations as Grant Park's screening, with live orchestral accompaniment, of the BBC nature documentary "Planet Earth Live," on July 21.

Among Hurley's goals for future seasons are "creating a more holistic approach to the idea of a festival in summer, whether it's an overarching theme that involves programs with partner organizations around the city, or programs given in addition to concerts," she says.

One of the 2010 collaborations Hurley is looking forward to is an evening of spoken word and music on July 7 that will launch the 2010 Chicago Latino Theater Festival. Produced in association with the Goodman, the program will be an adaptation of "Memory of Fire" by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducts, with Henry Godinez, the theater's resident artistic associate, directing.

The chorus will be featured in several big works, including Mahler's Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"), Michael Tippett's oratorio "A Child of Our Time," Beethoven's Mass in C major and Dvorak's rarely heard Requiem, in addition to a program of French a cappella works at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

Two of Kalmar's more unusual collaborations will involve the Portland-based pop band Pink Martini and Toumani Diabate, playing the kora, or West African harp-lute.

Other conductors taking part in the nation's only remaining free, municipally sponsored summer classical music festival include Krzysztof Urbanski, Xian Zhang, Julian Kuerti, Hans Graf, Hannu Lintu and Bell.

Among the guest artists are violinist Christian Tetzlaff, pianist Horacio Gutierrez, cellist Alban Gerhardt and singers Karina Gauvin, Jonita Lattimore, Amber Wagner and John Relyea. There will be the usual Independence Day concert with fireworks, and Ryan Opera Center singers will present a program of operatic finales by Mozart and Rossini.

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune