Grant Park Music Festival to offer two premieres, spotlight city’s diversity

Tue Jan 07, 2020 at 6:12 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Carlos Kalmar will open the Grant Park Music Festival on June 12 with works of Beethoven, Wagner and Florence Price.

Reflecting the city-wide Year of Chicago Music celebration, the Grant Park Music Festival will present two commissioned world premieres and spotlight local musicians and ensembles in its 2020 season.

In addition to its customary mix of classical standards and choice rarities, this summer’s lineup at the lakefront music festival will offer more events that, says the festival release, reflect the city’s musical dynamism and “breathtaking diversity.”

Towards the latter priority, the 2020 festival “aspires to better reflect our community by presenting more works by women and composers of color.”

Among those will be the Violin Concerto No. 2 by jazz composer and pianist Billy Childs, which will receive its world premiere with Chicagoan Rachel Barton Pine as soloist July 17-18.

“We tried to focus on soloists that have ties to Chicago, like Rachel and Ilya Kaler” (Tempest Trio violinist and longtime pedagogue at DePaul)” said Carlos Kalmar, artistic director and principal conductor.

The other as-yet-unnamed premiere will be a work for orchestra and chorus by genre-traversing Chicago native Mischa Zupko, which will be debuted June 12-13.

“I’ve never conducted music by Mischa but I listened to several pieces and I thought this is a real voice and a good fit for the Year of Chicago Music,” said Kalmar.

“My idea was to include something with Chicago ensembles,” he added. “There are so many communities in Chicago and we spend an enormous amount of time thinking and talking with different communities.”

That will certainly be on display in a June 17 program that pairs dance-inspired music by Polish and Latin composers with Terpsichorean contributions by Chicago’s Polonia Ensemble and Tango 21 Dance Theater.

The festival will open June 10 with Kalmar leading the Grant Park Orchestra in Florence Price’s Concert Overture No. 1, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto (with the Tempest Trio) and orchestral excerpts from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nűrnberg. 

Once again the festival will run for ten weeks, closing this year on August 15.

“It’s not entirely new with us but I am happy again to be starting the season with a female [composer],” said Kalmar. “In this case Florence Price, and later on Elena Kats-Chernin (Mythic), an important Australian voice,  and Augusta Holmès (Andromède), an interesting French female voice from the second half of the 19th century.”

Typically, Kalmar will mark the Beethoven 250 year with a mix of the composer’s popular works (Piano Concerto No. 4 and Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”) and less-often-heard works like the Triple Concerto and Mass in C major.

Artists making their debuts this season include conductor Nicole Paiement, pianist Andreas Haefliger in the Beethoven concerto, Simon Trpčeski in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and violinist Simone Lamsma in Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. Also The Percussion Collective will perform Drum Circles by Christopher Theofanidis and pianist Janice Carissa will perform Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand.

Returning artists include Christian Tetzlaff (Elgar Violin Concerto), Alban Gerhardt (Barber Cello Concerto), and conductors Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Markus Stenz .

Kalmar will present a real curio with the Symphony No. 2 by 19th century Austrian composer Robert Fuchs June 24. “Brahms said he really admired Robert Fuchs and so I thought, ‘Well, if Brahms said it, let’s check it out,’” said the conductor. “It sounds a little like Brahms but it’s very well written and his music should be heard.”

Also heard this summer will be Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, Britten’s Spring Symphony, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 (“Surprise”), Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41. The season will close with Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah August 14-15.

There will also be a gospel night, a program of Irish choral music, a Broadway program and movie night with Singin’ in the Rain.

To the joy of those on the lawn and the dismay of many in the pavilion, the controversial 40-foot HD screen will be back, deployed this summer for four Grant Park events. Kalmar said the festival plans to use the Jumbotron in the future on only a “limited” basis.

Tickets are on sale now. Go to

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