Kalmar Set to Open His Tenth Season with The Grant Park Music Festival

June 14, 2010

Chicago Classical Review gives an overview of the Festival's 2010 season with candid insight from Principal Conductor, Carlos Kalmar.

On Wednesday night, Carlos Kalmar will give the downbeat to Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, kicking off the Grant Park Music Festival’s 76th season and the conductor’s tenth anniversary leading Chicago’s free summer music series.

At an economically straitened time when many classical organizations appear to be racing back to standard populist fare, Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra will once again serve up a distinctive mix with the offbeat and ambitious repertoire that has made the Pritzker Pavilion the place to be for discerning music fans in the summer months.

“All this is the result of the collaboration between Jim Palermo and myself,” said Kalmar at the music festival offices, speaking of the former general director, his partner in Grant Park artistic planning for the past decade.

“But I’m not sure when Jim hired me to be principal conductor of the festival that we would wind up being champions of what we are,” he adds. “I would say the first few years we were even more eclectic than we are now.”

Certainly, the 2010 season largely continues the same quirky adventurous spirit of previous seasons since Kalmar became the festival’s principal conductor in 2000. Among the most intriguing events this summer are the collaborations with the superb Grant Park Chorus, led by chorusmaster Christopher Bell.

Beethoven’s mighty "Mass in C" will be heard this opening weekend on a program that also includes Haydn’s Te Deum and Hindemith’s Nobillisima Visione. Michael Tippett’s anti-war oratorio, "A Child of Our Time" is to be performed July 23 and 24. Also a real rarity, "Canticle of the Sun" by Chicago composer Leo Sowerby, will be presented June 25 and 26, as part of a program of Pulitzer Prize-winning American music.

Bell’s choristers will also be featured in Dvorak’s "Requiem" August 13 and 14, and an a cappella program of French music July 6 and 8. The season will close with Kalmar leading the orchestra, chorus and soloists in Mahler’s epic "Resurrection Symphony" August 20 and 21.

To be sure, there will also be evenings of lighter works such as Wednesday’s opening program of Berlioz, Vivaldi and Respighi, a night with cabaret ensemble Pink Martini July 23, and a screening of the film Planet Earth July 21.

Kalmar believes doing a mix of standard works and rarely encountered rep is a better deal overall for both audiences and the musicians, due to the relentless accelerating treadmill of the summer concert schedule.

“First of all, it’s very tough on the orchestra if you’re constantly offering new things for them to learn because we have a schedule that is complete insanity,” says Kalmar.

“And if we only played unknown or rare works, we wouldn’t have the audiences we do. Now we’ve integrated a little more the standard pieces, and I consider the programs probably the best mix that we can have.”

Last summer the Grant Park Music Festival offered some of the year’s most memorable evenings, including Shostakovich’s "Song of the Forests", Elgar’s "Dream of Gerontius", a program of 1930s American rarities, and the world premiere of Michael Torke’s "Plans", marking the centennial of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago.

“I was happy for so many reasons with last season but especially the Gerontius,” says Kalmar of the acclaimed performances of Elgar’s glorious oratorio, “And, considering the [limited] rehearsal time, I thought the Mahler 9 was pretty special.”

Asked what he considers his greatest achievements over the past decade at the helm of the Grant Park Orchestra, Kalmar is quick to credit Palermo and his musician colleagues. “I never considered it my greatest achievement. I would say our greatest achievement was actually to put this festival on a very different map.”

“Chicago is a very rich city in terms of what goes on culturally and with great institutions of very high quality. That being said, I think it’s fair game to say that the Grant Park Music Festival is now very different than it was.”

The most obvious change is the orchestra’s gleaming new home, the Pritzker Pavilion, which opened in 2004, “We have probably one of the best outdoor facilities in the world. It’s not only a wonderful piece of art but it also works very well as a great acoustical environment within the limitations of being in the middle of the city with traffic noise and all of that.”

Lawrence Johnson, Chicago Classical Review