The Windy City’s Cultural Delights

June 27, 2009

An overview of cultural attractions in Chicago, which features the Grant Park Music Festival.

Sitting on the grass in Chicago’s Millennium Park one warm Friday evening a fortnight ago, among 8,000 or so people gathered for one of the thrice-weekly free concerts that take place here during the summer, it was tempting to believe that culturally there are few cities of its size to rival Chicago.

Before me rose Frank Gehry’s majestic Jay Pritzker Pavilion, its billowing ribbons of brushed stainless steel gleaming in the evening sun. From its stage, a terrific performance of Shostakovich’s orchestrated song cycle The Song of the Forests rang out. “The day of communism is dawning! Truth is with us, and good fortune. If only Lenin could see our holy motherland now.” sang the choir. No wonder there are ads on the El, Chicago’s antiquated but efficient elevated railway, hoping to recruit Young Republicans with the line “It’s not easy being Right in Chicago.” Perhaps Obama’s hometown really has become a hotbed of socialism.

Certainly, as a concert it all felt agreeably democratic: those who want to concentrate on the music can reserve one of the 4,000 seats at the front; everyone else sits on the grass beyond, some with picnics, others with boxes of Giordano’s fabled stuffed pizza. But there’s not much concession to populism in the programming: this summer’s concerts feature the world premiere of a 40-minute piece by Michael Torke (in a bill made more accessible by Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 3); there’s a programme of Pärt, Sibelius and Rautavaara; another of Britten, Berio and Richard Strauss. There are some pretty starry soloists as well: the soprano Nicole Cabell and the pianist Ingrid Fliter. Read the full article at

Claire Wrathall, Financial Times