Archive for August, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Chicago’s Contented Conductor

kalmarConductor Carlos Kalmar claims that the Mahler Second Symphony (“Resurrection), which he played with the Grant Park Orchestra in 1999, helped him land the job of Principal Conductor. Given that history, it seems fitting that he should reprise the score this weekend to mark the successful completion of his 10th Anniversary season.

Kalmar has a good deal to be proud of: molding a good orchestra into an even greater ensemble; the transformational move from an acoustically-challenged Petrillo Music Shell to the sonically-superior Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park (attendance has skyrocketed from 120,000 in 2003 to 300,000 in 2009) conducting a wide variety of adventurous repertoire; showcasing the works of American composers; leading performances of the highest caliber in recent seasons, notably the incandescent Mahler 9th and Beethoven 9th to end the 2009 season.

Millennium Park regulars know this musical figure primarily by his leonine mane and what critics have termed his “propulsive” and “athletically vigorous” performance style. Yet, beyond that, who is he?

Kalmar was born in 1958 of Austrian parents in Montevideo, Uruguay and went to study in Vienna at the age of 15. His conducting career took off when he won the Hans Swarowsky Conducting Competition in Vienna in 1984. He made his debut the following year with the NDR Symphony in Hamburg.

He gained valuable experience heading several German orchestras over the next 15 years. Kalmar made his American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2000, the same year he was appointed Principal Conductor of the Grant Park Orchestra. In 2003, he was named Music Director of the Oregon Symphony, the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi. Most recently, he added the music directorship of Madrid’s Orquestra Sinfonica which he assumes in the 2011-2012 season.

Kalmar says he is a musician whose main mission is simply “making music at the highest level with my musical family”. He spoke highly in an interview of his summer colleagues, drawn from such top orchestras as the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Kansas City and Seattle Symphony.

“These ten years in Chicago have been a blessing for me. When I arrived, it was a very good group of musicians. Now, it’s an excellent orchestra.” He speaks proudly of their familiarity with one another which enables them to know and learn repertoire quickly. Kalmar has also recorded six CD releases with the orchestra for Cedille Records.

He appears a man content in both his personal and musical life; not someone caught up in music world games. Asked if he found it difficult to be properly recognized in Chicago, a city with an abundance of world-class conductors in Riccardo Muti, James Conlon, Pierre Boulez and Andrew Davis, Kalmar laughed.  “If I started thinking of that (comparisons with Muti, I would leave music. I don’t lose any sleep over that.

There is good reason not to worry. When James Palermo, head of the Grant Park Music Festival from 1995-2009, was looking to hire a music director ten years ago, he remembers several musicians approached him after a rehearsal of the Mahler Second and telling him, “This guy is terrific.” The next nine years validated that assessment. “He knows the music and the scores better than anyone else,” says Palermo. “He’s an incredible rehearsal technician.

Kalmar substituted this season, on short notice, with the Chicago and Boston Symphony Orchestras. At 52, he has a long career, with  higher achievements, ahead of him. Palermo, his working colleague for nine seasons and currently president and CEO of the Colorado Symphony, holds him in high regard. “He’s built a career for himself from the ground up. He’s done it the old-fashioned way, through hard work. It’s his time to shine and he deserves whatever comes his way.”

PostHeaderIcon Patti as Pistol-Packing “Annie”

LaPoneGuns will be blazing at Ravinia this weekend but no need to take cover. The pistol popping will be make-believe, supplied by Broadway diva, Patti LuPone, as part of three staged performances of the musical theater classic, “Annie Get Your Gun.” The show tells the fictional tale of sharpshooter, Annie Oakley, who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show of the 1880s.

The opening performance this Friday coincides with the real Annie’s 150th birthday celebration. LuPone’s appearance will mark her seventh starring role since 2001 in  Ravinia’s annual revivals and her third Ethel Merman role. She first appeared in the 2001 staging of Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim. In fact, all six prior appearances have been in Sondheim productions.

The annual tradition of classic Broadway revivals will stand as one of Ravinia president Welz Kauffman’s lasting legacies. He launched the music theater initiative in his first season with the following words: “We wanted to explore Ravinia Festival’s rich history of theatrical music, which dates back to our earliest days as one of the summer opera capitals of the world….It will focus on the orchestra as an integral partner in music theater, attract new audiences and teach youngsters through our community efforts.”

I personally commend Ravinia (along with New York City Center’s Encore series) for keeping this distinctly American art form alive; a cultural treasure which contributed so much to what we call the Great American Songbook. The first Broadway show I saw as a lad of 11 was a musical, Peter Pan. Musicals have since provided some of my favorite theater memories.

LuPone has enjoyed the Broadway limelight for many years due to her bigger-than-life vocalism and a history of signature musical roles, starting with her 1979 Tony-award portrayal in Evita and, more recently, in the revival of “Gypsy” (2008) and her Olivier-award appearance in the London cast of “Les Miserables.”

Annie - ethylLike LuPone, Merman was herself a larger-than-life Broadway legend. I cannot hear the songs, “No Business Like Show Business” from “Annie” or “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy” without picturing Merman belting out those numbers with her distinctively brassy sound.

I’ll be listening intently this weekend to hear how LuPone delivers Merman’s iconic “No Business.” The show is one of lyricist Irving Berlin’s masterworks. It opened in 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances on Broadway before transferring to London. It was turned into a movie and has enjoyed numerous revivals, most recently last year in London’s West End.

Besides “No Business Like Show Business,” other songs from the show like “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “Anything You Can Do” have taken on a life of their own. And, remember ladies, “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.” Joining LuPone in the cast are Patrick Cassidy as Annie’s lover, Frank Butler, and George Hearn as Buffalo Bill Cody.  Lonny Price directs and Paul Gemignani leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Performances are this Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 7:30. For information or to purchase tickets, go to or call 847/266-5100. If you are unfamiliar with this musical classic, go by all means. Perhaps it will provide you with lasting memories of your own.

Past Musicals Presented at Ravinia sondheim2
Sweeney Todd (2001)

A Little Night Music (2002)

Passion (2003)

Sunday in the Park with George (2004)

Anyone Can Whistle (2005)

Gypsy (2006)
Most Happy Fella (2007)

West Side Story (2008)
Camelot (2009)

Stephen Sondheim wrote the songs (in some cases the book as well) for all the musicals, save for “Most Happy Fella” and “Camelot”.