The Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago’s busiest and most exciting summer classical orchestral festival, has announced its 79th season, consisting of 10 weeks of free concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on the city’s lakefront, June 12 through Aug. 17.
Artistic director and principal conductor Carlos Kalmar and chorus director Christopher Bell announced on Wednesday a typically rich and eclectic set of 21 concert programs, most to be performed on Wednesday and Friday evenings at 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Grant Park is the nation’s only remaining free, summer-long outdoor classical and orchestral music festival.
In addition to Kalmar and Bell, in their 14th and 13th summers with the festival, guest conductors will include Hannu Lintu, Thierry Fischer, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Eugene Tzigane and Jeff Tyzik. Former Lyric Opera of Chicago chorus director Donald Nally, now on the Northwestern University faculty, will also prepare a massive John Adams work, “Harmonium,” as a guest.
The festival, which started as a Chicago Park District project, will revive its community connections with new audiences as Bell and the chorus take an a cappella program, “Songs of Praise and Passion,” to two Park District facilities, the South Shore Cultural Center on July 30 and the Columbus Park Refectory on Aug. 1. The concerts are now presented by the not-for-profit Grant Park Orchestral Association with support from the Park District and the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
A new professional development and diversity program in partnership with the Chicago Sinfonietta’s Project Inclusion will see four string musicians, Amyr Joyner, Sarah Martin, Yvonne Smith and Jocelyn Butler, joining the orchestra for this summer, after a competitive audition process.
Concert highlights include two performances of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” with soloists Erin Wall, Jeremy Ovenden and Alan Held, June 28-29, and two of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” paired with the Adams on the closing weekend Aug. 16-17. The chorus also will be featured in Prokofiev’s music for the Film “Alexander Nevsky” June 14-15 and the Schubert Mass in E Flat Aug. 9-10. The popular Broadway program with vocal soloists returns, focused this year on Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern and Lorenz Hart on July 17. Kalmar leads the Bruckner Second Symphony on July 31.
Instrumental soloists include pianists Valentina Lisitsa, Kirill Gerstein and Alessio Bax, violinists Karen Gomyo and Stefan Jackiw, Swedish clarinet virtuoso Martin Frost in the Nielsen Concerto on June 26, and Pink Martini on June 19.
In addition to other Western classical works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Faure, Copland, Dvorak, Shostakovich and Beethoven, Chinese-born, France-based composer Qigang Chen’s “Iris devoilee,” featuring Chinese singers and instruments (erhu, pipa and zheng) along with orchestra, will have its Chicago premiere June 21-22.
Peruvian Fort Worth Symphony music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya presents his multimedia “Caminos del Inka” (“Inca Roads”) program, and Puerto Rican, European-trained Roberto Sierra’s 2002 Concerto for Saxophones will feature its original soloist, jazzman James Carter, along with Latin works Aug. 7. Lesser played works by Barber, Martinu, Frank Martin, Borodin, Glazunov and others run through the repertoire.
Open lunchtime rehearsals of the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus run June 11 through Aug. 16 and typically take place Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Memberships to the Grant Park Music Festival offer premium seats in a reserved area begin at $150 and include parking and restaurant discounts. Friends of the Festival memberships, supporting the festival but not providing reserved seating are $75.
Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM (98.7).