Review: Grant Park Festival Closes with a Great Performance of Haydn’s The Creation

There are few pieces of music that satisfy me more thoroughly than Franz Josef Haydn’s oratorio, The Creation. Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus performed it for a rousing sendoff to the 2022 season at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion on Saturday night. With the help of soprano Maeve Höglund, tenor Duke Kim, and bass/baritone Douglas Williams, artistic director/conductor Carlos Kalmar led the orchestra and chorus in a performance that had several moments of pure magic.

In three parts, Haydn’s Creation tells the story from the first two chapters of Genesis. The original English libretto had been prepared for George Frideric Handel 50 years earlier. The English wasn’t very good, and Handel didn’t use it. Haydn set the music to a German translation. As I approached the performance, I was hoping Grant Park Chorus was using one of the modern English revisions. Much to my surprise, the first words from Williams’s vocal cords were in German.

Any good performance of The Creation requires subtlety and finesse to bring the formless void from Genesis’ opening verses to the stage. Under Kalmar’s baton, the orchestra oozed with eerie calmness and gloom. Williams, backed by the chorus, added just the right amount of suspense and anticipation. It was a perfect set-up for the arrival of light. When it finally came, it was brilliant.

Tenor Duke Kim, bass/baritone Douglas Williams, and soprano Maeve Höglund get well-deserved ovations. Photo by Norman Timonera.

Haydn put a lot of focus on the soloists, who captured the right feelings Saturday night, whether singing alone or together. Their interactions with the orchestra were memorable, such as in Part Two, when Höglund and the solo flute and Williams and the solo cello traded melodies. The trio also blended well with David Schrader, whose accompaniment on the pianoforte came through during quieter moments.

Kim was also crisp, especially in the Recitative that introduces one of the work’s high points, “Die Himmel erzählen” (“The heavens are telling”). Saturday’s night performance of this gem that closes Part One gave me goosebumps.

The orchestra faithfully replicated the many sound-effects Haydn assigned to it, such as rain drops, animal roars, and wind gusts. Helping enormously was the Grant Park Chorus, which, under the direction of Michael Black, blended well. One of the many magical moments was their gradual entry in Part Three, when Adam and Eve enter the story. The duo of Williams and Höglund sang those parts with the light passion called for in the libretto. As it should have been, “Mit Dir” (“With Thee”) was a highlight.  

Although there were a couple moments when the strings were off and the horns waffled, the performance was great. The only downside was the printed libretto, which in a few places incorrectly labeled who was singing what. But that was small potatoes compared to the excellence that wafted from the stage at Pritzker Pavilion.

One of the sad passages of summer’s finale is the end of the Grant Park Music Festival. Barring a return of pandemic or other unfortunate conditions, there’s something to look forward to next June.

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Louis Harris
Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world.

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