2021 Grant Park Music Festival welcomes audiences back to the Pritzker Pavilion this summer

The annual outdoor classical music festival will return with reduced capacity and reserved seating for all seats in the pavilion and lawn “pods.”

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Conductor Carlos Kalmar will once again lead the Grant Park Music Festival Orchestra and Chorus in a summer season at the Pritzker Pavilion.

Conductor Carlos Kalmar will once again lead the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus in a summer season at the Pritzker Pavilion.

Patrick Pyszka

The Grant Park Music Festival announced Tuesday its 2021 season will return to the Pritzker Pavilion, for a season of live music and in-person audiences.

The season will kick off July 2 and run through Aug. 21 and will operate at 25% capacity (under current pandemic restrictions) with reserved seats for all concertgoers, both in the pavilion and on the lawn. The lawn will, for the first time, feature socially distanced “pods” for small groups.

Artistic director and principal conductor Carlos Kalmar will return to lead the Grant Park Orchestra, with Christopher Bell directing the Grant Park Chorus, in an eight-week season. All concerts are free and will take place Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 6:30 p.m. Run time will be 90 minutes, without intermission.

Touchless ticketing will be utilized this season. Free passes for the July 2-3 “Independence Day Salute” will be available starting at 10 a.m. June 30 at gpmf.org or by phone at (312) 742-7647. Free passes for all other concerts in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion will be available starting at 10 a.m. on the Monday before the event. Patrons can select from seats in the Seating Bowl or the Great Lawn pods (squares painted on the grass) that will accommodate two to six people. Masks will be mandatory at all concerts.

“We have had to be really thoughtful and conservative in terms of how we would bring audiences back to Millennium Park in a safe way, and how we could bring all these artists back in a safe manner as well,” said GPMF president and CEO Paul Winberg.

“We started collecting info and data from around the country in terms of how they would put musicians on their stages. Most of it was in chamber music. We were determined to come back this summer with a festival that looked at much as possible as the orchestral and choral festival that we are.

“The good news is that the Pritzker stage is huge and one of the walls is missing. So concern about air quality was alleviated. Using guidelines from the unions — the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents the chorus, and Chicago Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestral players — we have also incorporated their guidelines on social distancing, we were able to determine the maximum number of persons we can have on the stage.”

That maximum number of orchestra and/or chorus is capped at 63 to 65 for any single performance. Singers must have a 150-square-foot “bubble” of space around them, string players need to be six feet apart, and winds and brass need to be 10 feet apart, he said.

Seating capacity is 11,000 for the festival in “normal” years, but a 25% in-person audience cap means only 3,000 patrons will be allowed at each performance.

“We had to reconfigure the way the season looks. We have reduced the budget for guest artists. We realized early on it was going to be difficult to have international soloists perform with the orchestra, so most [of the festival lineup participants] are local or within the 50 states,” he added.

Some highlights of the festival include the world premieres of a viola concerto, “L.E.S. Characters,” by violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery; “Blow, Fly, Pop!!” by Korean-American composer Texu Kim; “Sound and Fury” by Anna Clyne; “The Passing of the Year” by Jonathan Dove, and “Entr’acte” by Caroline Shaw.

In addition, the annual GPMF Classical Campers program for kids 6-12, sponsored by the Chicago Park District, which usually brings summer camp kids to Millennium Park for an immersive day of classical music, has pivoted to a mobile model; the retooled program will this year head out to parks across the city.

The complete schedule for the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus can be found at gpmf.org. Festival concerts will be broadcast on WFMT-FM (98.7) and at wfmt.com/listen.

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