Ravinia won’t be releasing its 2014 schedule for another two weeks. Meanwhile, the Grant Park Music Festival has laid out a typically diverse and adventuresome lineup of symphonic music for its 80th anniversary season, June 11 to Aug. 16 in Millennium Park.
Among the season highlights will be a weeklong residency by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer William Bolcom, culminating in the world premiere of his Concerto for Orchestra on the closing weekend of the festival.
The second premiere and second Grant Park commission of the season will be Christopher Theofanidis’ “The Legend of the Northern Lights,” to be presented along with film images by astronomer and visual artist Jose Francisco Salgado.
An expanded initiative of music education and community engagement, Festival Connect, will bring orchestra musicians to Chicago Park District venues in neighborhoods throughout the city as part of the park district’s Night Out in the Parks program.
Once again Bell and the chorus will perform an a cappella choral program at the South Shore Cultural Center and the Columbus Park Refectory. The chorus master also will lead the orchestra and chorus in the annual Independence Day Salute, July 4.
The festival will harken to its storied past with concerts marking the return of two former principal conductors, Leonard Slatkin and Hugh Wolff, who will lead the orchestra on two weekends in July.
Slatkin’s programs will include the Dominican-born composer and pianist Michel Camilo as soloist in his own Piano Concerto No. 2 (“Tenerife”) and Shostakovich’s seldom-heard “The Execution of Stepan Razin.” The Wolff concerts will feature another rarity, Dvorak’s Piano Concerto, with Stephen Hough as soloist.
Two high-profile youth orchestras, the National Youth Symphony of the United States of America and the Portland Youth Philharmonic, will appear under festival auspices. The National Youth Symphony will have conductor David Robertson at the helm, with Gil Shaham performing Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto.
“In general I would say the season focuses very much on the fact that we are a great festival that distinguishes itself by playing pieces nobody else performs, mixing them with works our audience knows well,” says Kalmar, the Uruguayan-born Austrian whose tenure as the festival’s principal conductor (since 2000) and artistic director (since 2011) has made Grant Park an important player among domestic classical music festivals.
Kalmar’s concerts will venture off the beaten symphonic path with such infrequently heard works as Janacek’s “Glagolitic Mass,” Elgar’s Symphony No. 1, Dvorak’s Third Symphony, Chausson’s Symphony in B flat and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Another prominent component on Kalmar’s programs typically is American music, with pieces by John Corigliano, Samuel Barber, Walter Piston, John Adams and Bolcom presented this summer.
Following the success of previous music-and-film concerts at the festival, composer-conductor George Fenton will return to lead “The Blue Planet in Concert,” with a live symphonic score accompanying undersea images from the BBC/Discovery Channel television series.
Mei-Ann Chen, music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta, will lead Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” in concerts at the pavilion and South Shore Cultural Center. Other guest conductors are Giancarlo Guerrero, Jeff Tyzik and Andrew Grams, music director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra.
Soloists include pianists Natasha Paremski and Jean-Philippe Collard; violinists Stefan Jackiw and Christian Tetzlaff; cellist Gabriel Cabezas; and singers Christine Goerke and Pink Martini’s Storm Large. Members of the Ryan Opera Center will solo in Bolcom’s “Cabaret Songs.” Pop and jazz offerings include a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and a program of mariachi music under Kalmar’s direction.
For the second year, the festival will partner with the Chicago Sinfonietta’s Project Inclusion professional development program to guide young minority musicians in their pursuit of orchestral careers. In an ongoing collaboration with DePaul and Roosevelt universities, pre-professional vocal students will perform alongside the parent orchestra and chorus.
The festival will collaborate with the park district for the fifth year of Classical Campers, a music and arts immersion program for children ages 6-12. More than 1,400 students from more than 30 Chicago neighborhoods are expected to take part in this summer’s edition.
The fact that Grant Park is able to operate free of commercial constraints has long given the festival the edge over what the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can and cannot present at Ravinia. But another factor in Grant Park’s success is the tight musical bond Kalmar and his orchestra players have forged over their nearly 15 summers together. Having to prepare unfamiliar, often highly demanding repertory in limited rehearsal demands nothing less.
“The orchestra players and I know each other very well and we know we have to work very hard in the time that’s given us,” Kalmar says of his ensemble, which is made up of Lyric Opera Orchestra members, area freelancers and players from outside the city. “The musicians bring their experience to the table, and I bring mine. I am always in awe of what this orchestra is capable of doing.”