Choral works, American music in the spotlight at 2018 Grant Park Music Festival

Tue Jan 09, 2018 at 12:01 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Carlos Kalmar will open the 2018 Grant Park Music Festival June 13 with music of Haydn and Walton. Photo: Christopher Neseman
Carlos Kalmar will open the 2018 Grant Park Music Festival June 13 with music of Haydn and Walton. Photo: Christopher Neseman

If you like what the Grant Park Music Festival has been doing in past seasons, then you’re going to like it just as much this summer.

The 2018 installment of Chicago’s lakefront music festival will serve up the same artful mix that has made it the most adventurous and smartly programmed music organization in town. This year’s ten weeks of classical music will include a commissioned world premiere for chorus and orchestra, a healthy dollop of unsung American repertory and a bracing blend of offbeat works along with populist favorites.

A pair of choral blockbusters will frame the 2018 summer season. Artistic director and principal conductor Carlos Kalmar will open the festival June 13, leading the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus in William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. The English composer’s choral showpiece will be programmed alongside Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 and Sean Shepherd’s Magiya. The season will close August 17 and 18 with Carl Orff’s sonic spectacular Carmina Burana (alongside Dvořák’s The Water Goblin).

After a 2017 Grant Park season that was lighter than usual on American music, homegrown rep is back with a vengeance this summer at the Pritzker Pavilion. William Bolcom’s 80th birthday will be marked with performances of his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, and other American works include Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ Poem, Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Andrew Norman’s Switch, Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, Walter Piston’s Symphony No. 6 and John Vincent’s Symphony in D major. Kalmar will also lead a concert performance of Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act opera The Old Maid and the Thief featuring singers from Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center. 

The festival’s sole commission this summer is a large work for chorus and orchestra by Ēriks Ešenvalds. The Latvian composer will be this summer’s composer in residence and his yet unnamed work will premiere June 20 and 22, timed for the annual meeting of Chorus America, which takes place in Chicago the same week.

Kalmar will also conduct Janáček’s Sinfonietta, Debussy’s Nocturnes, Haydn’s Mass in B-flat Major (“Theresa”), Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4, Strauss’s Macbeth, Schubert’s Symphony No. 3, Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture.

Conductor Gemma New, who made an impressive festival debut last summer as a late sub, will be back to lead a concert July 25. On the program is Douglas Lilburn’s Aotearoa, Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2  and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist Kirill Gerstein.

Other soloists this summer include violinists William Hagen (Mozart’s Concerto No. 4) and Paul Huang (Barber) pianists Natasha Paremski (Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3) and George Li (Chopin’s Concerto No. 1), cellists Johannes Moser (Dvořák) and Pablo Ferrández (Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante), flutist Adam Walker (Nielsen Concerto and Griffes Poem), and percussionist Colin Currie (Norman’s Switch).  Orchestra members (violinist Jeremy Black, cellist Walter Haman, bassoonist Eric Hall and oboist Nathan Mills) will be in the spotlight for Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante.           

Chorus director Christopher Bell will once again lead the Independence Day concert as well as an offsite Grant Park Chorus program featuring music of Bruckner, Britten, Tippet, Leighton and more.

Other guest conductors this season include Dennis Russell Davies, Markus Stenz, David Danzmayr, and Roderick Cox.

There will be two pops programs: a tribute to Lerner and Loewe and a night of movie music.

Festival memberships start at $96 and are currently available. Visit visit or call 312.742.7647.

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