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Concertos aplenty (world premiere for horn), star soloists await at Grant Park Music Fest

Submitted by on Jun 11, 2017 – 9:33 pm

Preview: Mark your calendar for these top picks of the 2017 Grant Park Music Festival season
By Anne E. Johnson

A world premiere French horn concerto, a soprano whose star is on the rise and an evening of music by the most celebrated living film-score composer – the summer 2017 Grant Park Music Festival offers all this and more at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Artistic director Carlos Kalmar has programmed an impressive array of performers and works. Here are some highlights:

The festival co-commissioned the Horn Concerto by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis, who wrote the piece for Jonathan Boen, principal horn of the Grant Park Orchestra. The world premiere performances are Aug. 11-12 on a program that also includes the overture to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Tsar’s Bride” and Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony, inspired by a Lord Byron poem.

There are plenty of concerto choices for listeners seeking standard repertoire, too. The festival’s opening night concert on June 14 features Vadim Gluzman playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. On that program, Kalmar also leads the orchestra in selections from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and the Festival Overture by Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén.

Angelo Xiang Yu performs Saint-Saëns’ Third Violin Concerto on July 19, bookended by Kenji Bunch’s (literally) foot-stomping “Supermaximum”  (check it out below) and Copland’s film score for “The Red Pony.” Brett Mitchell is the guest conductor for that program.

Indoors, at the Harris Theater, François Leleux plays Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto in concerts Aug. 4-5 that include Hindemith’s Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Mendelssohn’s “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage” and Debussy’s series of orchestral marine paintings, “La mer.”

There’s more 20th-century music on offer when 23-year-old American pianist and composer Conrad Tao plays Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto (from 1936) on June 23-24. “Infernal,” David Schiff’s tribute to Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” begins the concert, and that Stravinsky ballet concludes it. Classical concerto repertoire is juxtaposed to the 20th century on Aug. 16 when Harriet Krijgh plays Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major and Kalmar also conducts Respighi’s “The Birds” and George Whitefield Chadwick’s Symphonic Sketches.

Guitar virtuoso Pablo Sáinz Villegas makes his Grant Park debut Aug. 2 as soloist in the program honoring the Spanish guitar. He will perform works by Joaquín Rodrigo, Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga and Joaquín Turina. Kalmar will conduct orchestral highlights from Bizet’s “Carmen” as well.

Some of this summer’s guest instrumentalists will be arriving in groups, ready to party with the Grant Park Orchestra. To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, the renowned Canadian Brass stops at the Pavilion on their summer tour. In the July 1 concert, conducted by fellow Canadian Lucas Waldin, the five-member group plans to play works in every style from W.C. Handy to G.F. Handel. Needless to say, they’ll start the show with “O Canada.”

Expect more celebration when Mariachi Cobre joins the Grant Park Orchestra for an evening of traditional Mexican folk music on Aug. 9. The Tucson-based band can frequently be found entertaining crowds at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center, a gig that surely demands a great sense of energy and fun. They’ll bring their trumpets, vihuelas, and guitarras de golpe to delight Chicagoans.

The 2017 Grant Park Festival is not just about world-class instrumentalists. Singers have staked out some prime territory of their own in this year’s schedule. One potential standout is a performance June 21 of Aaron Copland’s “Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson” by soprano Susanna Phillips, making her festival debut. These songs were selected by Copland himself from a cycle of 12 he’d written in 1949-50. The program opens with Wagner’s “A Faust Overture” and Kalmar will also lead the orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4.

This year the Grant Park Chorus presents a wide range of pieces, from well-known masterworks to edgier fare.

Imagine Lake Michigan as an ocean while you listen to the June 16-17 concert of marine music featuring the chorus, soprano Sara Jakubiak and baritone David John Pike. Kalmar conducts Vaughan Williams’ “A Sea Symphony” for orchestra and voices, using texts from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” Keeping to the English sea theme, the program concludes with the mysterious “Sea Interludes” from Britten’s opera “Peter Grimes.”

Among the more intriguing vocal programs is “Missa Latina,” June 28 and 30, a large-scale work for chorus, orchestra, soprano and baritone by Roberto Sierra. The word Latina in the title has two meanings. The Puerto Rican composer uses the standard Latin texts of the Mass, but imbues them with contemporary Latin and Caribbean sounds. Guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya leads the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus with solo vocalists Jessica Rivera and Takaoki Onishi.

Frank Martin’s 1944 oratorio “In terra pax,” commissioned to celebrate the imminent end of European hostilities in World War II, will be performed on July 28-29 with Kalmar on the podium. Soloists are soprano Colleen Daly, mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal, tenor David Pomeroy, baritone James Westman and bass Daniel Okulitch. The first half of the program will be Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (“Linz”).

More sacred choral music – this time without the orchestra — can be heard in this year’s “Night Out in the Parks” concerts. On July 13 at the South Shore Cultural Center and on July 18 at the Columbus Park Refectory, the Grant Park Chorus will perform Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers (All-Night Vigil),” originally written for the Russian Orthodox Church.

One of the greatest of all works for orchestra, chorus and soloists – Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – will end the festival Aug. 18-19 under Kalmar’s direction. The evening begins with Brahms’ “Schicksalslied” (Song of Destiny), a choral setting of poems by Friedrich Hölderlin. Then comes Beethoven. Soloists for the final “Ode to Joy” movement of the monumental symphony will be soprano Janai Brugger, mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy, tenor Brendan Tuohy and bass Russell Braun.

While the majority of festival concerts will be conducted by Kalmar, there are some noteworthy exceptions besides those already mentioned.

On July 21-22, musical theater specialist Ted Sperling brings Broadway to Millennium Park in a candy store of show tunes featuring Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana. The two Broadway veterans will be joined by the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus to share a mix of songs by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Frank Loesser, and Stephen Sondheim.

Hollywood gets to have its say, too. Thomas Wilkins, principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl, brings a big night of movie music to the pavilion with a celebration of Academy Award-winning composer John Williams. Concerts July 7-8 will let you soar with Superman, march into danger with Indiana Jones, control the Force with Yoda, practice your magic with Harry Potter and fly to Neverland to challenge Hook.

Chicago-born conductor Fawzi Haimor takes the podium July 12 to lead “Ramal,” a 2014 orchestral work by Syrian-American composer Kareem Roustom. That eclectic program also includes Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 (“London”) and Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis.”

Conductor Simone Young brings several powerful works to her guest spot on the podium July 14-15. Besides the U.S. premiere of Matthew Hindson’s heavy-metal-inspired “Headbanger” and Strauss’ unusually candid self-portrait of his relationship with his wife in the tone poem “Symphonia domestica,” the program also offers Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist Andrew Tyson.

The Grant Park Festival runs June 14-Aug. 19. Every concert has free lawn and chair seating available in addition to closer reserved seats.

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