Grant Park strings move indoors for a light program of Grieg and Vivaldi

Tue Jul 10, 2018 at 9:58 am

By Hannah Edgar

Jeremy Black performed “The Four Seasons” with Grant Park Orchestra members Monday night.

Some Seasons are best experienced indoors.

On Monday night, members of the Grant Park Orchestra traded Millennium Park for the South Shore Cultural Center to perform Grieg’s From Holberg’s Time and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The reliable program of string orchestra favorites more than filled all 450 seats of the  Paul Robeson Theater and spotlighted the talents of the Grant Park musicians in more intimate environs. 

The greatest spotlight was, however, reserved for concertmaster Jeremy Black. Principal second violin of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Black led both pieces with the polish, virtuosity, and control that have marked his 12-year tenure with the Grant Park Orchestra.

The ensemble’s performance of the Holberg Suite—Grieg’s hat-tip to musical styles contemporary with Vivaldi—provided a well-wrought first half of the program. The Grant Park musicians performed cohesively and compellingly, united throughout the most finely tuned ornamentations. Though briefly bogged down by a lethargic “Poco meno mosso” section in the Rigaudon, the responsive and engaged ensemble kept the performance mostly colorful.

Though his solo turn was still to come, Black nonetheless stood out for his shape-shifting sound, radiating warmth in one phrase and evaporating to veil-like transparency in the next. Fellow first-desk players shone, including principal cellist Walter Haman in his second- and fourth-movement solos and violist Elizabeth Beilman in her pattering duo with Black in the fifth movement.

As devotees know, Vivaldi’s programmatic The Four Seasons are guided by short, descriptive prose poems, possibly penned by Vivaldi himself. In true poetic fashion, however, Vivaldi leaves few directives for how to render the images depicted in the famous cycle. Joined by harpsichordist Jason Moy, the Grant Park musicians’ approaches were intuitive and effective.

Black in particular tapped into the interpretive freedoms afforded by the score, varying repeated refrains and improvising ornamentations, notably in the inner movement of a delightful Spring concerto. Black led the ensemble through sensitive, uncaricatured dynamic turns; with Beilman and Haman contributing subtle, wry solos.

The electrifying Summer concerto at times threatened to unglue soloist and ensemble; to the Grant Park players’ credit, entropy never quite prevailed. The mercurial first- and third-movement tempests were given a fearsome performance like flashbacks for Chicago’s recent holiday storms.

According to the accompanying poem for the movement, Autumn is the earthiest of the concertos, beginning with a rural bacchanal and ending with a bloody hunt. Black opted for a passionate but refined reading, his clean expressivity leading the ensemble through the delicate, softly pulsing transition into the “slumber” section of the first movement.

Black preferred his Winter brisk, taking all three movements at a clip. The fleet tempos posed no problem for the Grant Park players, who gamely matched him with the same precision as in the opening Holberg. After a liberally embellished second movement, Black brought on the heat with the third movement, bringing Vivaldi’s timeless cycle to a rousing conclusion.

 The program will be repeated 7 p.m. Thursday at the Columbus Park Refectory.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Grant Park strings move indoors for a light program of Grieg and Vivaldi”

  1. Posted Jul 11, 2018 at 6:55 am by Linda Adler (Malchrist)

    I have known Jeremy since he was a child and boy look at him now. So proud of him in his accomplishments. Very talented young man.

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