The rain is no match for Barton Pine and the Grant Park Orchestra | Culture & Leisure
The Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus are reliable and popular performers, so you can count on good-sized crowds at their concerts – except when Mother Nature steps in. Friday night’s concert at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park had a much smaller audience than usual because it had rained most of the day and was still raining a few minutes before the concert started. The Great Lawn was a damp expanse of damp grass with only a handful of sturdy souls. The main bowl had more listeners, but was far from full capacity.
But the rain didn’t stop the Grant Park Music Festival (GPMF) and the Grant Park Orchestra, led by guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, played with enthusiasm and concentration, as if the park was packed. Those who were there will likely remember the event fondly, as the highlight of the evening was undeniably memorable. Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine was the soloist in a new work by composer and jazz pianist Billy Childs. This is the third work Childs has composed expressly for Barton Pine, and from the start you could tell they were a good match. The composer offered striking music with a wide range of ideas in his Violin Concerto No. 2, and the violinist gave listeners a performance of technical brilliance and musical sensibility.
The three-movement work opened on the lower strings somewhat resembling a brooding Shostakovich. The first solo entry had Barton Pine playing a slow, enchanting, melancholy melody that pulled you into this piece composed during and heavily influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Much of the orchestral music in this movement has a contemporary energy with a slightly nostalgic twist, making you feel like you suddenly remember something long forgotten.
The middle movement was steeped in feelings of regret and disappointment, the hushed orchestra providing a soft supporting cover for the violin. The soft calm at times established an almost trance-like quality, providing Barton Pine with a perfect canvas for his solo tricks.
The final movement opened with treacherously fast music for the soloist, which she dispatched with tingling drama as the orchestra then delivered thrilling sonic explosions. Childs creates melodies that hurt and suck and envelop you in his sonic world. Barton Pine, who performed seated on a small stage, held your attention throughout. His attention to detail was wonderful. Even a single note could start off quiet and raspy and before you knew it, the sound was developing a full, rich sweetness. She was mesmerizing in fast passages that she burned with precision and more than a hint of ferocity. Whether the composer calls it a violin firework display or a friendly bird chirp, Barton Pine has crafted the music with clarity and a deep sense of inspiration. It was a wonderful performance.
She followed with a brief encore for solo violin, a charming rendition of the German from Bach’s Partita No. 2.
After the intermission, Harth-Bedoya returned to the podium to lead the orchestra in an audience favourite, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica.” The mood was set from the first lines, with a grand and heroic sound. There was a pleasant amiability in the middle section that slowly gave way to the inexorable climax. The second movement, a funeral march, had a slowly building tension, as the scherzo erupted with invigorating audacity, even if the horn calls were far from perfect. The final movement, a set of variations, had a driving momentum that landed beautifully at the work’s triumphant conclusion.
The concert opened with a short work by Colombian composer Victor Agudelo. His “Madre de Agua” was originally a chamber composition, but Harth-Bedoya commissioned the composer to create a full orchestral arrangement in 2016. According to the program notes, “The work was inspired by the myth Colombian water mother, a water nymph who lures children to their death in the rushing waters of the river.
The work sometimes has a call-and-response feel (perhaps the nymph calling the children). A passage played at medium volume is often followed by a loud, impetuous response, much like a response followed by a few exclamation marks. Agudelo sometimes uses an almost fragmentary approach, with Renaissance-influenced melody quickly giving way to modern astringency. The music caught your attention and was an energetic way to start the concert.
GPMF concerts take place primarily in Millennium Park and are free. The festival will end on Saturday August 20 with a performance of “The Creation” by Haydn. Carlos Kalmar will conduct the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, with soprano Maeve Höglund, tenor Duke Kim and bass Douglas Williams as soloists. To learn more about upcoming GPMF performances, visit GrantParkMusicFestival.com.