Thu 7 Aug, 2014
Tags: 80th Anniversary Season, Grant Park Music Festival, Jay Pritzker Pavilion
As Its 80th Anniversary Season Winds Down, The Grant Park Music Festival Still Has Some “Wow Factor” For Late Season Audiences
By Lori Dana
Since Chicago labor organizer James C. Petrillo first envisioned it, as work for unemployed musicians and a cultural oasis for weary citizens in the midst of the Great Depression, the Grant Park Music Festival has continually grown: in scope, in the depth and breadth of its musical offerings, and in the estimation of critics and audiences from all over the world. From humble beginnings as a volunteer band playing free concerts in the Grant Park music shell named for the fiery Petrillo, the festival has grown into a venue for one of the world’s finest full orchestras and its complementary vocal chorus, performing for thousands of local residents each week and millions more via classical radio station WFMT’s international streaming broadcasts. Musicians flock to Chicago from all over the country every summer, lending musical talent honed in cultural powerhouses like The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, and The Seattle Symphony (as well as our own CSO and Lyric Opera Orchestra) to the festival.
Thanks to the foresight of its Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar, and his colleague and collaborator Chorus Director Christopher Bell, The Grant Park Music Festival has some of the most creative and compelling programming out there. In addition to an orchestral line up which this year included classical favorites (Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony”, Handel’s Water Music), some stunning lesser known works by Dvořák, Janáček, Danielpour and Poulenc, mariachi, jazz and opera collaborations, contemporary classical debuts, and themed programs for families (spooky music) and adults (Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins); GPMF also presented community outreach concerts featuring both orchestra and chorus in several Chicago neighborhood locales.
As eclectic as it sounds, the festival programming successfully weaves together wildly different musical genres into surprisingly strong programs. A common thread holds these together, whether cultural, thematic or visual (several programs have had accompanying film or dance components). In doing this, maestro Kalmar and company almost always succeed in delighting and educating their audience. That audience has grown exponentially with the festival’s move to Millennium Park. Ensconced in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion since 2004, The Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus now perform in a state-of-the-art space designed by brilliant American architect Frank Gehry. Equipped with a sound system housed in steel arches spanning its Great Lawn, Pritzker puts the sound quality of other, older outdoor venues to shame; and has helped The Grant Park Music Festival reach a performance zenith. It is truly the greatest jewel in Chicago’s lavish crown of summer festivals, and remarkably it is still…FREE.
Happily, there is still time for those who haven’t yet experienced the amazing sound of a classical symphony rising above the gentle hum of street traffic, punctuated by the cries of gulls from the lakefront or the periodic wail of a siren from Michigan Avenue. There is still time to enjoy the fragrant cool of the freshly mown Great Lawn surrounded by gently swaying trees, while relishing a home made picnic, or a bottle of wine with friends. There are three marvelous weeks of concerts still to be enjoyed, beginning Wednesday August 6 with Pink Martini’s incomparable vocalist Storm Large singing Kurt Weill, and ending on Saturday August 16 with Ravel’s dramatic and dreamy Impressionist ballet, Daphnis and Chloe.
The full concert schedule can be found on line at…
Grant Park Music Festival images by Norman Timonera