Bathed in perfect weather, the Grant Park Orchestra under the baton of Carlos Kalmar gave the Chicago audience—both in stunning Millennium Park and on the radio via WFMT—what they have come to expect. This was a concert combining a well-known work in the classical repertoire with newer more experimental works that are stretching the boundaries of what many of us think of as classical music. All were performed with consummate professionalism by the orchestra, somehow overriding the competing sounds of crickets in the parabolic eaves of the Pritzker Pavilion.
Before the Ravel reverie of “Daphnis et Chloé”, which also featured the Grant Park Chorus, were two more experimental works. As in other recent seasons showcasing works by John Adams, “Tromba lontana” (Fanfare for Orchestra) let us ponder how relatively few notes could create a triumphal sound.
Then, “Millenium: Concerto-Fantasia” by William Bolcom, a work commissioned by Grant Park Orchestral Association, had its world premiere. Bolcom was in the audience to hear his work performed. Bolcom explained in the program notes that this piece was a contemplation of the history of the orchestra over the last four centuries.
Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus’ rendition of Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé” made one hunger both to see the ballet that the music is scored for and to perhaps hear this wonderful orchestra perform it indoors in the likes of Symphony Center, where the softer sounds of the piece would be better captured than in the night air. That said, the performance didn’t fail to stir.
What the fence-to-fence patrons on the lawn or the radio audience could not see was how Carlos Kalmar, in a final movement of Ravel’s piece where the music gains in fury and energy, flipped his eyeglasses off with his baton in his enthusiasm. Not missing a fraction of a beat, Kalmar continued conducting such that many of us were left wondering if we had seen right.
The ubiquitous voices in the world who decry the fading audience for classical music should all get a gander of Millennium Park in full swing. Chicago audiences enthusiastically taking in this performance and the many others this 80th season clearly got the memo direct from Grant Park Orchestra that classical music is happening and hot.
Following the concert the overflow crowd swarmed back to buses and CTA trains with lawn chairs, picnic baskets and programs in hand. You could sense everyone’s uplift that a night of such music in the lovely Millennium Park brings.
Remember what a ghost town the Loop used to be on weekend nights in years gone by? Thanks to the Grant Park Orchestra each season in Millennium Park has made that more and more of a distant memory.
If you would like to make a donation to the Grant Park Music Festival or get early warnings on next year’s season visit the Grant Park Music Festival website.
Photos: Norman Timonera