Grant Park Music Festival performs an eclectic program of works by Lopez, Puckett and Dvorak and showcases performances by Chicago natives, McGill brothers.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Lindeblad, the author of this review, was teaching at the Merit Music School at the time when teen-aged Anthony and Demarre McGill were students and confesses to biased appreciation for their performance from this shared connection.
If anyone still thinks going to the symphony is about the music of long dead white men, this concert by the Grant Park orchestra tonight totally broke apart that half-truth. From the Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez (born in 1978), responsible for the first exciting and different Fiesta!, Four Pop Dances for Orchestra thru the middle two pieces performed by brothers Anthony and Damarre McGill on clarinet and flute, to the Dvorak symphony at the end, stereotypes were blown away.
Homecoming to Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival
Anthony and Damarre grew up on the south side of Chicago, attended the Merit School of Music, moved on to the Curtis Institute and other schools and have become now established musicians nationally, working as principal players in the Seattle Symphony and New York Philharmonic! Anthony is the first African-American musician to be a principal player in the New York Philharmonic.
Eclectic is a word that could be used to describe this interesting concert. One of the many things this music fest gets right, in this reviewer’s opinion, is a consistent mix of old and new music and performers.
In their first piece, the soloists Anthony and Demarre traded back and forth fast scales and arpeggios- licks if you will, in a sort of musical conversation with orchestra background.
But the McGill brothers were also given opportunities to show very soulful, thoughtful expressions, especially in Mama Dee's Song for Joel, the second movement in the Concerto Duo by Joel Puckett. In the pre-concert conversation Puckett explained that this particular piece was derived from a simple song sung to him by his grandmother Mama Dee, to get him to go to sleep when he was a young child and he's always treasured this lullaby. He composed this three movement work, Concerto Duo, for Anthony and Damarre in 2012.
But then we were treated to a pure energetic musical glory with Saint-Saens’ Tarantelle. This fast duo was one that especially showcased the McGill brothers’ skills in playing fast and exactly together. The short and sweet piece left us wanting more.
A Deep and Dramatic Symphony
Antonin Dvorak wrote his Seventh Symphony at a time when he was very impressed with the thoughtful, rather brooding third symphony just then (1883) composed and premiered by his friend and mentor Johannes Brahms. And then Dvorak's mother died, perhaps further affecting the Seventh Symphony in a thoughtful way.
Of the four movements in this Symphony #7 only the third one is bright, up and at least consoling. The lower strings present the first theme of the symphony, which rapidly develops into a sort of climax but is always a little on the dark side. But once again (as earlier in the concert) it's the flute and clarinet joining together presenting a lyrical second theme which brightens up the mood. As a stormy day can be thought provoking but yet magnificent, this symphony gets off to a glorious start.
The second movement starts with one of those emotional chorales that get your attention as something different and beautiful. Was Dvorak writing the symphony to help work out his grief around his mother's recent passing to hopefully a better world? It's not impossible.
The purposely lighter scherzo movement was performed by the orchestra so light and airy and uplifting it was, in this musician’s view, exactly what you want music to be. This was just the respite needed from the two darker sections surrounding it. Yet it was still in the key of D minor, not major, until the middle lyrical section brought out by the glorious woodwinds. Pleasant but short, the woodwinds gave sweetness but the strings came in with their dark, minor anger and righteous indignation, pulling the woodwinds in with them for a definitely dramatic, serious ending to the movement.
The final movement of the concert keeps the dark, minor mood for maybe half the movement until once again the woodwinds transform the theme into something major and optimistic. Though they try to hold on to hope and positive messages, the rest of the orchestra brings the drama back in and ends the symphony dark and dramatic and, yes, satisfying.
The Grant Park Music Festival season continues through August 17. For details read “Grant Park Music Festival 2019 PREVIEW.”
All photos by Norman Timonera
About the Author:
Mark Lindeblad is a working pianist and bassoonist in Chicagoland. He received the Bachelor's of Music performance degree, bassoon major, piano minor from Wichita State University in 1978 and the Master's of Music performance degree in bassoon from Roosevelt University in 1983 in Chicago. While doing piano accompanying was always happening on the side from high school and college years, it stepped up to be Mark’s primary occupation in the 1990's. Today he is a piano accompanist at Glenbard South High School, and plays principal bassoon in the Southwest Symphony, and also finds time for about 20 private students studying either bassoon or piano. For more information, visit Mark Lindeblad’s website: www.markspianostudio.com