Both new and familiar works coming to Grant Park Music Festival

February 22, 2012

by Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun-Times

While the city’s pop music and food festivals are in flux, the venerable Grant Park Music Festival will continue full force for its 78th season with 10 weeks of free classical programs Jun. 13 to Aug. 18 in Millennium Park.

Among the highlights of the festival’s 2012 lineup, announced Tuesday, are two world-premiere commissions to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Grant Park Chorus.

For his 13th season here, artistic director and principal conductor Carlos Kalmar continues to offer strong programming with first-time Grant Park offerings of works by Israeli-born Avner Dorman, Britain’s Kenneth Leighton and New Tango founder Astor Piazzolla, as well as lesser-played works by Britten, Debussy, Dvorak and Vaughan Williams.

Kalmar also will lead popular works such as Mo­zart’s “Jupiter” symphony, Beethoven’s Fifth, the Brahms Double Concerto, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” and Haydn’s oratorio “The Seasons.” He’ll also helm the annual Lyric Opera of Chicago Ryan Center concert, this year featuring ensembles from Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” and Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier, as well as the Dvorak cantata rarity “The Spectre’s Bride” for the season finale concerts Aug. 17-18.

Back for his 11th year, chorus master Christopher Bell will join Kalmar in leading the world premiere June 15-16 of “Only Convergence: An Exaltation of Place,” written by American composer Michael Gandolfi and inspired by Chicago history.

On July 6-7, they also will lead the second world premiere, American-born Sebastian Currier’s “Sleepers and Dreamers,” which “explores the remote and mysterious world of sleep.”

  • Other choral highlights: a “Golden Anniversary” spectacular June 29-30 with Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and Stravinsky’s “Les Noces,” and on July 20-21, Rossini’s “Stabat Mater.” Bell also leads the annual Independence Day concert, this year at 6:30 p.m. July 4. The chorus also will see the release of its first-ever a cappella CD, “American a Cappella,” on Chicago’s Cedille Records, featuring world premiere recordings by seven composers.

  • Guest conductors and soloists: Rising international conductors James Gaffigan, Belgium’s Koen Kessels, Bulgaria’s Rossen Milanov (a former music director of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra) and the Czech Republic’s Jun Markl make Grant Park debuts. Among debuting singers and instrumentalists are British piano wizard Steven Osborne and German cellist Tanja Tetzlaff (with her superstar violinist brother, Christian, returning to the festival). German cellist Alban Gerhardt and French piano specialist Pascal Roge are also back.

  • Pops programs: Conductor Kevin Stites returns July 13-14 for a Frank Loesser tribute with Broadway soloists to be announced, and composer-conductor George Fenton comes back July 11 for another BBC/Discovery Channel film and music evening, “Frozen Planet.”

In addition, Grant Park Orchestra musicians will perform at the ticketed appearances in late June of the Paris Opera Ballet at the Harris Theater. To kick off this collaboration, though, the festival will present a free evening June 23 of ballet music in the Pritzker.

Though planned by Kalmar, Bell and former interim administrator Leigh Levine, this will be the first festival season run by new executive director Paul Winberg.

Concerts are free, but memberships support the festival and can guarantee reserved seating. Memberships start at $75, with seating benefits at $140.


Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM (98.7)