The Grant Park Music Festival opens its 2021 season with flag-waving flair at 6:30 tonight, with the first of two presentations of its long-popular Independence Day Salute. The second concert is Saturday, also beginning at 6:30pm.
There are two breaks with the festival’s tradition. One is that the concert is not on July 4. The other is that it’s being presented on both Friday and Saturday nights, as are all of the subsequent weekend programs that run through August 21.
The Grant Park Orchestra is returning to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park after COVID-19 safety restrictions forced it to go dark for the entire 2020 season. It was an absence sorely missed by both classical music lovers and summer evening picnickers.
The program will be filled with patriotic classics such as John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”; the Armed Forces Salute features the anthem of each of the U.S. military branches, with veterans of each corps invited to stand and be saluted themselves by the audience. The 1812 Overture — Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s celebration of Russia’s victory over the forces of Napoleon — has become a standard in many July 4th celebrations (with timpanis standing in for cannon fire).
There will also be music Tonight, Tonight — literally: The program includes selections from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. (Click here to see the full program.)
The orchestra will be conducted by the energetic Carlos Kolmar, who recently extended his summer contract with the orchestra through 2024, and Christopher Bell, the orchestra’s choral director, whose flashy patriotic outfits have been a big part of the show at these July 4th concerts.
The Grant Park Music Festival continues next Wednesday with a program that includes Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture, which became embedded in American culture as the theme song for The Lone Ranger radio and television series.
Reserved seats for this weekend’s concerts cost $25-$50 and can be purchased here for tonight and here for tomorrow. There is free admission for most of the seating bowl as well as for the Great Lawn, and outside food and drink is welcome.
COVID safety rules: Festival staff will wear face coverings. Fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to do so, but it is recommended that unvaccinated people wear masks unless actively eating or drinking. You should not attend the concert if you have been exposed to COVID-19, are awaiting results of a COVID test or have experienced symptoms of COVID in the past 48 hours.