"Pastoral Picnic in White" Review - The Grant Park Music Festival Sets the Scene for a World Premiere Concerto

On Saturday, August 12 at 6 PM, the Grant Park Music Festival’s Pastoral Picnic in White took place, set on Millennium Park’s Great Lawn, against the backdrop of the Frank Gehry designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Picnickers in white and Chicago's skyline; photo by Norman Timonera

The Festival’s Pastoral Picnic in White is inspired by the French phenomenon that began in Paris in 1988, when friends gathered at the Bois de Boulogne for a dinner party and dressed in white so they could see each other in the dark. Now, every year, thousands of people gather in Paris, as well as other cities in Europe, Canada and throughout the States for these elegant pop-up dinner parties.


This reviewer and 15 friends, all in white, spread out our blankets and chairs on the lush lawn and enjoyed a splendid shared picnic of creative salads and desserts- plus champagne. All about us on the lawn brilliantly dresses ladies in funky hats and gentleman in white vests and slacks waxed eloquent and elegant, making toasts, nibbling and chatting in anticipation of the concert. Some of us lucky ones with reserved seats headed for the starkly modern Pritzker Pavilion to enjoy the performance.

A large group of picnickers in white; photo by Bonnie Rezabeck

The Grant Park Orchestra took the stage under the baton of Carlos Kalmar at 7:30 p.m. for an evening of great Russian masterpieces by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov as well as a world premiere by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer, Aaron J. Kernis, featuring solo horn Jonathan Boen.


First on the program was the Overture to the Russian repertory opera “The Tsar’s Bride”, 1898, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The overture introduces a “lurid tale of jealousy, insanity and the search for a royal wife”. With it’s heavy influence by Tchaikovsky contained in the alternating “martial motif and soaring melody”, it’s a strong and entrancing piece of music, eloquently introduced by Kalmar as “a gem”.

Picnic with clever decorations set against The Pritzker Pavilion; photo by Bonnie Rezabek

Next was heard Jay Kernis’ “Legacy”, a concerto for French horn, harp, percussion and strings, dedicated to Barack Obama. Jay Kernis is the 2017 composer-in-residence at the Grant Park Orchestra; his music has already been recorded with Kalmar conducting the Grant Park Orchestra. Kernis' Horn Concerto was co-commissioned by Grant Park and England's Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The soloist, Jonathan Boen, is the orchestra's principal horn.


The piece was in three atonal movements, well crafted, non-melodic, with an unusual twist. In a denouement achieving dramatic import, the concerto segued into “Amazing Grace” as Boem, solo except for the faint sounds of bells, (and an airplane overhead) stepped off the stage, faded into the audience, and returned.

Happy women picnicking before the concert; photo by Norman Timonera

Finally, the program closed with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred Symphony in B Minor”, Op. 58, 1855, based on the poem of the same name by Lord Byron, 1817. A four movement programmatic work of almost an hour in length for large orchestra, it’s extremely romantic, and much less frequently performed/ recorded than much of his work. Containing many changes of pace and mood that created demands on the conductor, filled with tension, climaxes and drama, it’s an impressive and showy piece, played well this evening.


For more than 80 years, the Grant Park Music Festival, led by Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar along with Grant Park Chorus Director Christopher Bell and the Grant Park Orchestral Association, has been Chicago’s summer musical sensation, demonstrating that classical music, performed by a world-class orchestra and chorus can have a transformative impact on the city. Showcased in the city’s most spectacular setting, the Festival continues to be the summer gathering place for all of Chicago. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park is the official home of the Grant Park Music Festival, with free seats available for every concert. The Festival’s 2017 season runs June 14—August 19. There is still time to attend!

Picnic in White guests; photo by Norman Timonera

For information and to reserve seats, go to the Grantparkmusicfestival website





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