Once again the Grant Park Music Festival is taking the lead among local summer festivals when it comes to presenting eclectic combinations of popular symphonic and choral fare and more adventuresome classical music programming. And it's all free.
The 79th season of the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, announced Wednesday, will consist of 22 programs given in the course of a 10-week season from June 12 to Aug. 17 at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. The season also will bring a renewed emphasis on outreach events presented in collaboration with the Chicago Park District in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Artistic director and principal conductor Carlos Kalmar will take the podium for 12 programs. Among the highlights of his residency will be Benjamin Britten's “War Requiem,” presented in honor of the composer's centenary; Prokofiev's cantata “Alexander Nevsky”; Roberto Sierra's Concerto for Saxophones, with James Carter as soloist; Schubert's Mass in E flat; John Adams' “Harmonium”; and the Chicago premiere of Qigang Chen's “Iris Devoilee,” a work for voices, orchestra and Chinese instruments.
Kalmar and the orchestra also will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Stravinsky's “The Rite of Spring” with two performances of that revolutionary manifesto on the festival's closing weekend.
Director Christopher Bell and his Grant Park Chorus will take a program of a cappella choral pieces to the South Shore Cultural Center and the Columbus Park Refectory. He also will lead the annual independence day eve concert on July 3 and a program of selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
Another highlight will be conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya leading a multimedia trek along the Inca Trail including music by North and South American composers.
Grant Park makes it a point to give local exposure to rising young conductors from around the world who wouldn't ordinarily get engagements in the area. Among this year's guest conductors will be Eugene Tzigane, Thierry Fischer, Hannu Lintu and Jeff Tyzik.
Instrumental soloists include Stefan Jackiw and Karen Gomyo, violin; Alessio Bax, Kirill Gerstein and Valentina Lisitsa, piano; orchestra principals Walter Haman, cello, and Mary Stolper, flute; Martin Frost, clarinet; and the world music group Pink Martini.
“The program this year is very ambitious,” Kalmar said. “Sometimes people ask me, ‘How are you going to be able to do all of that?' The thing is, I have such a great orchestra and fantastic chorus to work with, and that makes it easy.”
Surprisingly, Grant Park will offer no bicentennial tributes to composers Giuseppe Verdi or Richard Wagner. Kalmar said he took a pass because that area of the repertory is well looked after this year and next by both Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
“I thought, people will hear Verdi and Wagner everywhere this year, and we are not equipped to perform fully staged opera at the park,” the artistic director explained. “That's why I went with Mr. Britten instead.”
The festival's ancillary activities are putting the focus on education and outreach.
Vocal students from Roosevelt and DePaul universities again will make up the Apprentice Chorale, a training opportunity for selected pre-professional singers which Bell conducts.
For the first time, Grant Park is partnering with the Chicago Sinfonietta's Project Inclusion program. Four young string players have been chosen through audition to perform select concerts with the orchestra as well as at various Chicago Park District cultural centers. They also will take part in the festival's Classical Campers program, whereby some 1,600 youth are brought to Millennium Park for a day of what the festival calls “arts immersion events."
“We will continue to develop programs that help break down barriers for people who may not necessarily feel comfortable in a symphonic milieu,” said Paul Winberg, president and CEO of the Grant Park Orchestral Association. “This is all part of maintaining the balance of programming that is the hallmark of the festival."