Preview: On July 4, the Banner Will Be Spangled… and the Conductor May Be Too

Christopher Bell was red, white and blue from head to toe for the Grant Park Music Festival’s 2014 July 4th concert. Photo by Bob Benenson.

The Grant Park Music Festival presents excellent classical music concerts — for free — throughout the summer at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Nearly all follow classical formalities, with veteran conductor Carlos Kalmar tuxedo-clad at the podium.

Christopher Bell, the choral director for the Grant Park Music Festival, was all duded up for the 2015 July 4th concert. Photo by Bob Benenson.

Except on July 4th. That’s when Kalmar turns the baton over to Christopher Bell, the festival’s longtime choral director, who jazzes things up with a flair fitting the holiday.

For many years, Bell has rocked the red, white and blue… with a touch of Elton John. A spangled cap, sparkly shoes, or some other flamboyant touch have become expectations among those music lovers who make the concert an annual part of their July 4th festivities. (Bell explained his over-the-top outfitting in this 2016 TV interview.)

No one knows what Bell’s twist will be this year, but it will undoubtedly be eye-catching.

The program for the July 4th concert, which is scheduled for 6:30-8:30pm, includes patriotic standards such as Robert Wendell’s “From Sea to Shining Sea; the Armed Forces Salute,” arranged by Robert Lowden, during which veterans of each of the military services are invited to stand; an arrangement of “America the Beautiful” by Carmen Dragon; and of course, John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

There will also be a performance of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which also has become a July 4th staple (because it includes the sounds of cannons).

Fireworks or backyard barbecues keeping you from Millennium Park on the 4th? Make sure to check out the rest of the Grant Park Music Festival season, a virtual classical music greatest hits that includes work by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Strauss, Gershwin, Copland, Ravel, Bizet, Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mahler and many others.

Carlos Kalmar, the artistic director of the Grant Park Music Festival, conducted two choral pieces at the free concert held June 14 in Millennium Park. Christopher Bell, who will conduct the July 4th concert, is the festival’s choral director. Photo by Bob Benenson.

Special events include a showing of The Wizard of Oz, with the Grant Park Orchestra performing the music soundtrack, and the orchestra performing with the Mambo Kings, a group that performs a fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythm and contemporary jazz.

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Bob Benenson

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