Summer ushers in many exciting things - the hope of regaining some pigment in our skin, fresh produce from farmers' markets and of course, summer music festivals! Chicagoans in particular have the pleasure of indulging in one of the most unique and fabulous festivals - the Grant Park Music Festival. I asked artistic director Carlos Kalmar a few questions about how a music festival comes together and what we should expect for the 2012 season. There are some great programs planned - I look forward to seeing you all out on the lawn this summer!
1. Preparing a festival season seems like a daunting task - repertoire, scheduling, conductors and musicians... Where do you begin?
When planning for each season, we first look at the Chorus. It is exciting to get together with Christopher Bell and plan for them, and this season, we especially wanted to focus on the Grant Park Chorus because they are turning 50. So we planned several special choral programs, including one featuring just the chorus without the orchestra (Golden Anniversary Choral Spectacular program on June 29-30). For that concert, Christopher and I will share conducting duties for the first time ever. Also, to celebrate the anniversary, the Festival commissioned two pieces fo rthe Chorus and Orchestra. Michael Gandolfi has composed Only Converge: An Exaltation of Place (premiering on June 15-16) and Sebastian Currier came up with a very different piece, Sleepers and Dreamers (premiering July 6-7).
After planning for the chorus, I start looking at the rest of the season. I look at creating a mix of well-known, popular pieces with something that is very different. For example, the program on June 20 and 22 where we pair Mozart's Jupiter Symphony with Britten's Piano Concerto, or the concert August 3-4 in the Harris Theater where we perform Piazzola's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which is based on Vivaldi's famous work.
2. Because the Grant Park Music Festival offers free concerts, do you feel more artistic freedom in planning the season knowing that you don't have to maintain ticket sales in the same way other orchestras do?
Absolutely, yes. With the beauty of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and the tremendous value of what we offer artistically, we are the destination for the summer and people flock to our concerts in thousands. Whenever I plan for an orchestra that needs to sell tickets, I always have to question whether what I plan is going to sell, but here our audiences are very loyal and very interested in the unknown and will come no matter what we program / play. It is a luxury to tap into things that you absolutely would not hear anywhere else.
3. How do you choose guest artists? What do you look for?
It's a huge mix of things. Every season there are artists that I have worked with in a different city and have thought that they would be fantastic to bring to Chicago. I also listen to suggestions from my Grant Park colleagues, and look at that array of talented artists out there. The Grant Park Music Festival has to look for a variety of guest artists for many formats - concertos, ballet, opera, Broadway.... it's a puzzle that we have to fit all of the pieces together.
4. What should people look out for this summer? What are you most excited about?
To me, it is difficult to say "these are the highlights" when we have so much to offer. Of course, without a doubt, the highlights are the two commissions for the Chorus and Orchestra. Other highlights of this season for the chorus are the following: Stabat Mater by Rossini with Christopher Bell. I'm doing The Seasons by Haydn and following that is The Spectre's Bride by Dvorak, which demonstrates what we are very famous for - mixing the known with the unknown, and playing pieces for the Chicago audience which nobody else would even attempt to do.
5. The Grant Park Music Festival is a very special organization and very dear to many Chicagoans. Is there anything else you would like to share with readers about the festival that they might not know or that you want them to know?
I want everybody to understand one thing: yes, we are a free Festival, but it is important to know that half our budget comes from contributions and memberships. We need your help in order to continue to provide summer-long free concerts at a very high level. By becoming a member or making a contribution to the Festival, your support makes it possible for us to continue our existence in the future. During the summer in Chicago, there is nothing better to do than to come down to Millennium Park, listen to music of the highest artistic caliber and enjoy a very special evening, all free of charge.
For more information on the Grant Park Music Festival's 2012 season, you may visit http://www.grantparkmusicfestival.com/