In glittering anniversary year, Grant Park Fest mixes Beethoven with usual unusual suspects
Preview: Music festival kicks off 85th summer June 12, and the 15th anniversary of concerts at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
It’s a big-numbered year for the Grant Park Music Festival, which opens June 12 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Not only does 2019 mark the free festival’s 85th anniversary, but it’s also the 15th summer for the Pritzker Pavilion and the 20th season at the festival helm for conductor Carlos Kalmar. Not surprisingly, Kalmar wanted to do grand things. The result measures up. The word for this celebratory season is Big.
Three ambitious peaks loom in the 2019 festival: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (June 28 at the Pritzker Pavilion, June 29 at the Harris Theater), Delius’ “A Mass of Life” (Aug. 9-10) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor (“Resurrection”), which will close out the series Aug. 16 and 17. All of those works will spotlight the Grant Park Festival Chorus directed by Christopher Bell. In addition, the summer will bring two world premieres – Kareem Roustom’s “Turn to the World: A Whitman Cantata” (June 14-15) and Stacy Garrop’s “Shiva Dances” (June 21-22).
The opening concert pairs Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 (“Little Russian”) and Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman. The typical variety of Kalmar’s programing runs through the remaining June concerts: Australian composer Carl Vine’s Symphony No. 6 (“Choral”) on June 14-15, Busoni’s Symphonic Suite (June 19) and Brahms’ Violin Concerto with soloist Augustin Hadelich (June 21-22).
“We try to stretch in any direction we can,” says Kalmar, who is also music director of the Portland (Ore) Symphony Orchestra. “Since our concerts are free, we have more freedom in what we can plan. We want our programs to reflect the city. When I look out on the lawn, I see this great representation of what Chicago actually is – so diverse. We are a diverse country. We come from all different places.
“I like to mingle with the people arriving for the concert, a chair in one hand and a cooler in the other. Some might live across the street, some have come a long distance. They might be patrons of the Chicago Symphony for the last 40 years, or they might be hearing a classical concert for the first time. So when I talk to the audience about the next piece we’re going to play, I try to keep it interesting but somewhat light, not a lecture. I try to be an approachable human being.”
Kalmar brings the festival orchestra and chorus to each assignment, whether modest or grand, with the same equanimity. One might think Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis to be quite a challenge for a summer ensemble (even one that has reassembled with much the same membership for many a summer), but Kalmar sees that monumental work as just another Friday night in the park. “Oh, yes, we do the Missa Solemnis every eight to 10 years,” he says. “This chorus is so great, it’s really not a problem.”
Likewise, Mahler’s grandiose Second Symphony, which crowns the summer season: “We’re always looking to end on a high note. It’s a piece with enough power to wow the audience. But it’s also really amazing music of sublime lyricism and darkness and depth.” In featured vocal roles will be two prominent singers familiar to Chicago audiences: soprano Amanda Majeski and mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges.
Delius’ “A Mass of Life,” a concert-length work written in 1905, draws its German-language text from Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Says Kalmar: “(Christopher) Bell came to me and said, ‘You really should look at this piece.’ It’s a remarkable, powerful work in a late-Romantic style. But outside of England, it’s hardly ever performed.”
Here’s the complete lineup of programs and performers for the 2019 Grant Park Music Festival:
Wednesday, June 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Benjamin Beilman, violin
Zwilich – Jubilation
Prokofiev – Violin Concerto No. 1
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 2, Little Russian
Friday, June 14 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Christopher Bell, chorus director
Sibelius – Karelia Overture
Beethoven – Symphony No. 8
Roustom – Turn to the World: A Whitman Cantata (World Premiere)
Vine – Symphony No. 6, Choral Symphony
Wednesday, June 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Inon Barnatan, piano
Weber – Overture to Preciosa
Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 23
Busoni – Symphonic Suite
Friday, June 21 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Augustin Hadelich, violin
Garrop – Shiva Dances (World Premiere)
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 1
Brahms – Violin Concerto
Sunday, June 23 at 2 p.m.
CenterStage concert with Augustin Hadelich and Orion Weiss
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Wednesday, June 26 at 6:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Waltzes, polkas, and other popular favorites by the Strauss family
Friday, June 28 at 6:30 p.m. Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Saturday, June 29 at 7:30 p.m. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Street
Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Christopher Bell, chorus director; Maeve Höglund, soprano; Siena Licht Miller, mezzo-soprano; Andrew Owens, tenor; Michael Sumuel, bass
Beethoven – Missa Solemnis
Thursday, July 4 at 6:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Christopher Bell, conductor; Mary Stolper, flute; John Orduña, baritone
An evening of patriotic favorites and a Grant Park Music Festival tradition!
Friday, July 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Jeffrey Kahane, piano; Alicia Hall Moran, soprano; Holland Andrews, Holcombe Wallers, Gabriel Kahane, vocalists
Gershwin – Piano Concerto
Kahane – emergency shelter intake form
Sunday, July 7 at 2 p.m.
CenterStage concert with Gabriel Kahane
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Monday, July 8 at 7 p.m., South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive
Thursday, July 11 at 7 p.m., Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Boulevard
Members of the Grant Park Orchestra; Jeremy Black, leader and violin; Anne Bach, oboe
Holst – St. Paul’s Suite
Bach – Concerto for Violin and Oboe
Copland – Suite from Appalachian Spring
Wednesday, July 10 at 8 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Norman Huynh, conductor
The Grant Park Orchestra provides the live soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz on the giant Millennium Park screen.
Friday, July 12 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 13 at 8 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus; Larry Loh, conductor; Susan Egan, Doug LaBrecque and Madison Claire Parks, vocalists
An evening of Grammy, Tony and Academy Award-winning music, including songs from The Lion King, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera and more, plus tributes to Marvin Hamlisch and John Williams. Featuring the Grant Park Chorus and stars from Broadway.
Wednesday, July 17 at 6:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Emmanuel Villaume, conductor; Yolanda Kondonassis, harp
Ravel – Suite from Mother Goose
Ginastera – Harp Concerto
Bizet – Symphony No. 1
Thursday, July 18 at 7 p.m.; Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Boulevard
Monday, July 22 at 7 p.m.; South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive
Christopher Bell, conductor
An evening of a cappella works, celebrating the legacy of music written by women and will feature a world premiere commission by composer Lori Laitman.
Friday, July 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Martyn Brabbins, conductor; Stephen Hough, piano
MacMillan – Stomp
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 3
Vaughan Williams – Symphony No. 2, A London Symphony
Wednesday, July 24 at 6:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Cristian Măcelaru, conductor; Edgar Moreau, cello
Gulda – Cello Concerto
Tchaikovsky – Suite from Swan Lake
Friday, July 26 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; David Danzmayr, conductor; Anthony McGill, clarinet; Demarre McGill, flute
López – Fiesta!
Puckett – Concerto Duo
Saint-Saëns – Tarantelle
Dvořák – Symphony No. 7
Wednesday, July 31 at 6:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Conrad Tao, piano
MacDowell – Suite No. 2, Indian
Shostakovich – Piano Concerto No. 2
Copland – Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo
Friday, August 2 at 6:30 p.m. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Street
Saturday, August 3 at 7:30 p.m. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Street
Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Vadim Gluzman, violin
Higdon – blue cathedral
Bernstein – Serenade
Schmidt – Hommage à Stravinsky
Mozart – Symphony No. 38, Prague
Wednesday, August 7 at 6:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Mambo Kings
Gershwin – Cuban Overture
Plus music featuring Mambo Kings
Mambo Kings take the audience on a journey through the music of Latin America and the U.S. from the burning Afro Cuban jazz of Tito Puente, to the rhythmic playfulness of jazz great Dave Brubeck and the pop strains of The Beatles.
Friday, August 9 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus; Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Christopher Bell, chorus director; Melody Moore, soprano; Ewa Płonka, mezzo-soprano; Andrew Staples, tenor; Nathan Berg, bass-baritone
Delius – A Mass of Life
Wednesday, August 14 at 6:30 p.m.
Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Beach – Variations on a Balkan Theme
Rimsky-Korsakov – Suite from The Tale of Tsar Saltan
Gould – Cowboy Rhapsody
Friday, August 16 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Christopher Bell, chorus director; Amanda Majeski, soprano; J’Nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano
Mahler – Symphony No. 2, Resurrection
All concerts are free and take place at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park unless otherwise noted.
The City of Chicago has implemented a security perimeter and bag check for all concerts and events that take place at the Pritzker Pavilion. For most Grant Park Music Festival concerts, bag checks will be limited to matters of security, with firearms, knives and other weapons being prohibited to ensure the public’s safety.
However, for the Independence Day Salute on July 4, patrons will not be able to bring alcohol into the park. Beer and wine will still be available for purchase at concession tents inside the park.