Leonard Slatkin, who led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in April, returns to the Windy City for two concerts this weekend at the Grant Park Music Festival. As part of the festival’s 80th anniversary season, its artistic administrators invited two of its former principal conductors, Hugo Wolff (1994-1997) and Slatkin (1974-1975), for podium assignments this summer. “There is nothing like the Grant Park Festival,” says Slatkin, music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Lyon, who will lead the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus on July 25-26 in Chabrier’s España, jazz great Michel Camilo’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (Tenerife), Shostakovich’s The Execution of Stepan Razin and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor.

Later this fall, Slatkin will have another CSO encounter when Mead co-composer-in-residence Mason Bates joins the conductor and the Orchestre National de Lyon for four concerts Dec. 3-6 featuring Bates’ works (and performances on the turntables).

And now, a few words from Maestro Slatkin:

Your tenure with the Grant Park Music Festival came relatively early in your conducting career. What did it mean for you professionally?

I loved my time at the old Petrillo bandshell. In a way, it was the first directorship I ever had. Being able to put programs together in two rehearsals and at the same time be creative was a challenge. There is no question that I learned much from the experience, especially when it came to finding new and not often heard pieces. This helped shape my course of thinking for the remainder of my career.

This summer, you are returning to a work you conducted with the festival in the ’70s, The Execution of Stepan Razin, written for bass soloist, chorus and orchestra. Can you tell us a little about it?

I was fortunate to be able to present many new pieces to Chicagoans, and the Shostakovich was just one of them. It was also the American premiere of the piece. Based on a much-told Russian story, it depicts the enemy of the tsar and his arrest and subsequent beheading. When his head rolls off the gallows, its eyes are focused on the tsar, and the assembled crowd cries out in fear. It is a wonderful piece and very much in the style of the composer’s middle period.

How has the Grant Park Music Festival been the model for festivals elsewhere? Has its commitment to new music played a significant role in expanding the repertoire we enjoy today?

There is nothing like the Grant Park Festival. It remains the only city-funded series of its kind, presenting free concerts to the public. Perhaps because there is no direct cost to the audiences, conductors have been able to present music that is rare. I don’t know if any particular composer has been associated with the festival, but there is no question that Chicagoans became familiar with many composers because of these presentations.

For the complete program notes, click here.

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