Marina Piccinini performed the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Flute Concerto on Wednesday at the Grant Park Music Festival. Photo: Norman Timonera

The Grant Park Orchestra concert on Wednesday evening this week served as an informal opening exercise for the 50e National Flute Association’s annual convention, which officially opens Thursday morning at the Hilton in southern Michigan. The world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Concerto for Flute and Orchestra with dynamic soloist Marina Piccinini drew a large and boisterous contingent of conventional flautists to the Pritzker Pavilion. And, it turned out that this engaging new work was the highlight of the program.

Piccinini spoke about his longtime friendship with American Theofanidis in brief opening remarks. She mentioned that they share an affinity for the 13ePersian poet of the century Rumi, and shared his remarkable lines, “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion”, asserting that while Theofanidis’ score currently bears a traditional formal title, the working one is The universe in ecstatic motion.

The work begins with a cadenza for the flute alone, which introduces an organizing theme of three rising notes followed by descending interrogative trills. Here is also the first taste of the technical fireworks that permeate the score: rapid double licks and bursts of swirling notes.

The ensuing movement ‘Enchanting, balletic’ develops the motto of the opening cadence over an austere bass line in an expanded tonal vein, while the flute dances arabesques over the fundamental accompaniment. Soloist and orchestra build more collectively passionate music, which is followed by a second cadenza, in which cascades from the solo flute are playfully joined to pizzicato accompaniment from a solo violin.

A lyrical Largo felt very much like an updated version of Barber’s more reflective moves, and the Presto finale alternates a sung theme with swaying dance beats, before finally combining them into a celebratory coda.

Piccinini’s performance made it clear that she deserved her reputation as one of the world’s true masters of her instrument. Poised, technically flawless and even playful in her delivery, she gave a stellar plea to her friend’s new work. His tone was rich, pure and perfect, resonating impressively even in the highest register of his instrument.

Grant Park’s artistic director and principal conductor Carlos Kalmar led a confident orchestral backdrop that supported Piccinini’s efforts. Theofanidis was on hand to join these two in receiving the ovations, including the particularly enthusiastic flute block.

Carlos Kalmar conducted the Grant Park Orchestra in the music of Larsen, Theofanidis and Franck on Wednesday night. Photo: Norman Timonera

The program opened with a short work by another living American composer, Libby Larsen’s deep summer music from 1982. This short sketch is thrilling and unhurried, and while it evokes a languorous atmosphere, it does not fully capture the “sweep of the horizon” or the “depth of color” of the American plains at the time of the harvest, as the composer suggested . Principal trumpet David Gordon’s solitary solo was nonetheless a particularly elegant contribution.

The rest of the program was entrusted to the Symphony in D minor by César Franck. A study of changing modes, this symphony was almost unavoidable in the orchestral programs of the first part of the 20e century, but fell almost completely out of favor in the 21st approach. It’s Franck’s bicentenary year, which has sparked a kind of rehabilitation, but it’s hard to say it’s exactly overdue.

Franck’s score is organized around a handful of memorable themes, which are ingeniously combined and manipulated over its three movements. However, like Franck’s contemporary Edvard Grieg, he strives to develop these themes in a way that constantly arouses interest.

The result is that the symphony has a tendency to sprawl, which Kalmar valiantly met with an urgent, forward-looking reading on Wednesday evening. He elicited a brooding opening motif and oversaw its transformation into an allegro martial theme. The Wagnerian brass climax of the first movement had appropriate gravitas, though its material had been amply presented by then.

Anne Bach gave a mournful rendition of the Allegretto’s bardic English horn solo, and Kalmar captured the movement’s ancient sonic aesthetic. He brought out the Gaulish spirit in the concluding Allegro non troppo, and deftly underlined the various returns and permutations of the symphony’s mottos, even if the performance did not quite plead for the reinstatement of the score. of Franck in the repertoire.

The Grant Park Orchestra will then perform at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Kalmar conducts a program of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with Christian Tetzlaff and Vaughan Williams dona nobis pacem with soloists Maeve Höglund and Nathan Berg. www.grantparkmusicfestival.com

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