Uncertainty reigns as Grant Park Music Festival announces details of Kalmar’s final season

Tue Jan 09, 2024 at 12:01 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The 2024 Grant Park Music Festival will be the 25th and final summer season led by Carlos Kalmar.

The Grant Park Music Festival will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2024 as well as its 20th season at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

But the most significant aspect of this summer’s lakefront music festival is more bittersweet: this summer will be the 25th and final season for Carlos Kalmar, the festival’s longtime artistic director, principal conductor and guiding light.

Even the most successful conductor-orchestra relationships tend to lose their juice and artistic firepower after a dozen years—if not sooner. Yet Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra and Grant Park Chorus (helmed by Christopher Bell) continue to serve up adventurous programs and consistently outstanding performances. (Dvořák’s Stabat Mater by the Grant Park forces was No. 3 on CCR’s list of Top Ten Performances last year.)

Kalmar will be a tough act to follow. His yet-unnamed successor will be tasked with maintaining adventurous programming as well as the high standard for performances lakefront audiences have become accustomed to over the past 25 years. Uncertainly reigns as no obvious choice has yet distinguished themself enough to earn the post.

There will be four commissioned world premieres this summer by Clarice Assad (June 26), James M. Stephenson (July 12-13), Nathalie Joachim (July 24) and Ahmed Al Abaca. Kalmar’s final season will also feature some of his favorite collaborators as soloists, including violinists Christian Tetzlaff and Vadim Gluzman, and cellists Alban Gerhardt and Johannes Moser.

If there is one disappointment on the 2024 lineup, it is that the 20th-century American music that Kalmar has consistently championed is conspicuously absent (Copland’s Appalachian Spring is about it). Let’s hope that the firm commitment to neglected American music of the past built up over 25 years does not get sacrificed on the altar of more parochial political considerations.

Kalmar will open the 2024 festival June 12 with Anna Clyne’s Masquerade, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto (with Gerhardt as soloist) and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The English theme will continue June 14 and 15 with Tetzlaff performing Elgar’s Violin Concerto and—a real curio— Gustav Holst’s choral work, The Cloud Messenger.

Other Kalmar programs will include Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6 and the Schumann Piano Concerto with Garrick Ohlsson, an off-campus choral program and a program titled “Songs of Freedom,” featuring music of Beethoven, Margaret Bonds and Jessie Montgomery. Kalmar will also lead Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 (at the Harris Theater) and Brahms’ “Double” Concerto (with Gluzman and Moser). He will conclude his quarter-century tenure with Mahler’s epic “Symphony of a Thousand” August 16-17.

There will be fewer podium guests this summer—largely because a trio of conductors who debuted last year will lead multiple programs. The festival declined to confirm that these were de facto auditions for the post; yet it seems clear that the plan is to see if any of these maestri click enough with the musicians and audience to warrant serious consideration as Kalmar’s successor.

Ludovic Morlot will direct three programs (June 26-July 5), which will include a world premiere by Clarice Assad, Strauss’s Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, and Haydn’s Symphony No. 104. Morlot’s concerts will also feature Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Brahms’ Song of Destiny, Zoltan Kodály’s Psalmus Hungaricus, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, and Arturo Márquez’s Fandango with violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.   

Also directing three programs will be Eric Jacobson. His concerts (July 17-27) include Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis, Beethoven’s Fifth, Poulenc’s Stabat Mater and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

Giancarlo Guerrero leads two programs (July 10-13), which will include Joan Tower’s 1920/2019, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, Duruflé’s Requiem and the James Stephenson premiere.

Other events include the usual Broadway night and a program for strings off campus.

Festival memberships are now available. Call 312-742-7647 or go to gpmf.org.

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