Grant Park Music Festival’s summer season has passed the midway point with just three more weeks remaining after this weekend. Fans should make plans to catch the festival’s delightful blend of music and lawn picnicking before it ends on August 20. If you haven’t been to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park up to now, you missed memorable performances of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, a thrilling tribute to Cole Porter and Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony (“Romantic”).
The concert on Wednesday, July 20th, was totally engaging, though I was more moved by the opening segment featuring virtuoso cellist, Alisa Weilerstein. She played Osvaldo Golijov‘s composition “Azul” (in a version that the composer revised especially for her) with her usual passionate intensity and rich tone.
In introductory comments, Golijov characterized the piece as “a journey among the stars” with the orchestral sounds representing the music of the spheres. The sounds veers from an almost trance-like state in the “Silencio” movement to sounds of shattering discord. “Azul” combined elements of world music with a tabla-sounding Indian melody supplied by percussionists Cyro Baptista and Jamey Haddad. Conductor Marin Alsop provided excellent orchestral accompaniment.
The second half featured an imaginative programming touch. A 30-minute slide show of stunning nature images, shot by Frans Lanting, titled “Life: A Journey Through Time”, was paired with an original score by Philip Glass. The images were breath-taking but Glass’ piece sounded generic to my ears and like other scores by him. I found an earlier mix of sights and sound several years back that featured astounding NASA images, paired with Holst’s “The Planets”, a more successful pairing.
Some highlights of the musical treats remaining on the calendar include piano virtuoso Stephen Hough playing “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” (August 3), Mozart’s Mass in C Minor along with the world premiere of Michael Gondolfi’s “The Cosmic Garden in Bloom” (August 5 & 6), a “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” weekend featuring the beloved “Piano Concerto No. 1” (August 12 & 13) and Berlioz’s choral masterpiece, “The Damnation of Faust” (August 19 & 20).
For yet another season, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, Carlos Kalmar, has given Chicago listeners a rich assortment of musical staples, world premieres and multimedia surprises like Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” and the Glass/Lanting “LIFE” program.