The Grant Park Festival kicks off its 2017 season this Wednesday with Vadim Gluzman wielding the violin in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s fiery Violin Concerto. Carlos Kalmar returns for his 18th season as music director to conduct the Grant Park Orchestra in a program that also includes Alfvén’s Festival Overture and a medley of pieces from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
Every summer the Grant Park Music Festival and its deservedly acclaimed orchestra and chorus, which is directed by Christopher Bell, offer music by classical, modern, and contemporary composers in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion. The atmosphere is usually festive, with many listeners bringing picnic baskets, complete with linens, flatware, and crystal. The music making is usually great, notwithstanding inevitable distractions from helicopters, sirens, and conversations among audience members. Applause often erupts before a piece actually ends, thereby making the final notes inaudible. Of course, it is totally cliché to say that Frank Gehry’s amphitheater, backed by Chicago’s skyline, forms a stunning setting, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
As is typical, this year’s program features something for everybody. Interesting concerts include two major 20th major century works on Friday and Saturday, June 16-17. Soprano Sarah Jakubiak, baritone David John Pike, and the Grant Park Chorus and Orchestra will perform four Interludes and a Passacaglia from Benjamin Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes. Later in the program will be Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony.
Pianist Conrad Tao plays Aram Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto in a program of 20th and 21st Century music that also includes Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite on Friday and Saturday, June 23-24. Guest conductor Thomas Wilkins will perform music from John Williams’ soundtracks to Star Wars, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and other classic films on Friday and Saturday, July 7-8.
Canada’s 150th birthday will be celebrated on Saturday, July 1, when the Canadian Brass joins the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra to play works by composers with Canadian ties. This program includes an arrangement by Chris Dedrick, an American-born composer who resided in Canada, of a suite of music by an esoteric British pop group that went by the name of The Beatles.
Regular classical fare appears on Wednesday, July 12, when Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D-major, the London Symphony, is featured in a program that also includes music by Rouston and Hindemith. The music of Haydn returns on Wednesday, August 16, when cellist Harriet Krijgh performs his rarely heard Cello Concerto No. 1 in C-major. That program also includes music by Resphigi and Chadwick.
Stephen Hough will be performing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-minor on Wednesday, July 26, when listeners can also hear Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and music by Kodaly. Later in the week, Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 in C-Major, Linz, will be performed on Friday and Saturday, July 28-29, along with vocal music by Martin performed by the Grant Park Chorus and a quintet of soloists.
Other opportunities to hear vocal music are Wednesday and Friday, June 28 and 30, when guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, joined by soprano Jessica Rivera, baritone Takaoki Onishi, and the Grant Park Chorus in a performance of Missa Latina, a large scale coral work by Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra. Love songs from Broadway will be featured on Friday and Saturday, July 21-22, when music from West Side Story, Carousel, Follies, and other musicals will be performed by guest conductor Ted Sperling and vocalists Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana.
Music by Beethoven can be heard on three occasions. Kalmar will conduct the Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major on Wednesday, June 21, in a concert that also includes works by Richard Wagner and vocal music by Aaron Copeland performed by soprano Susanna Phillips. Pianist Andrew Tyson will join guest conductor Simone Young in a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major on Friday and Saturday July 14-15. That program includes music by Hindson and Richard Strauss.
Beethoven’s amazing Symphony No. 9 in D-minor will close the season on Friday and Saturday August 18-19. Kalmar will be conducting the orchestra, joined by Janai Brugger, Soprano, Allyson McHardy, ezzo-Soprano, Brendan Tuohy, Tenor, and Russell Braun, Bass. The Grant Park Chorus will be led by guest director Benjamin Rivera. That concert opens with Brahms’ Schicksalslied.
The Grant Park Music Festival has performances every Wednesday and Friday, at 6:30 pm, and Saturday on 7:30 pm. Most concerts also have pre-concert lecture in the Family Fun Tent an hour before the show. Reserved seating close to the stage can be purchased, but free seating is available towards the back of the pavilion and on the grass. In the days leading up to each concert, rehearsals are also open to the public. Check out the complete program at Grant Park Festival.