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Innovative Choral Piece Celebrating Chicago To Debut Friday Night

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John Cody. John Cody
John Cody is a veteran reporter for Newsradio 780.
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CHICAGO (CBS) — The Grant Park Chorus will be singing Chicago Tribune Headlines this Friday, as the Grant Park Music Festival Gets underway in Millennium Park.

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, as the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra rehearsed upfront Wednesday evening, backstage, executive director Paul Winberg explained the world premiere coming up Friday of a choral work recording the history of Chicago.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

“That piece is called ‘An Exaltation of Place,’ and the first part is, well, the whole thing, actually, is about Chicago,” Winberg said. “The first section is made up of headlines that are taken from the Chicago Tribune back in 1962, when the chorus was founded.”

The piece, which is fully named “Only Converge: An Exaltation of Place,” in inspired by a line from the novel Howard’s End by E.M. Forster: “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.”

The first movement, in which the chorus sings the newspaper headlines, employs what the Grant Park Music Festival calls the aleatory “cut-up” technique that such creative giants as William S. Burroughs practiced back in the 1960s.

The headlines are set to a string of hooks that echo the music from the age – evoking Rat Pack scat, the theme song from “The Jetsons,” and “exchange students learning the Twist.” The headlines reference a seemingly disconnected series of topics, from a recipe for banana refrigerator cake to a major theft of wigs, and, the festival says, “plus ça change, the exploits of the hapless Cubbies.”

The second movement, “Millennium Rising,” explores prehistory as the male voices sing of the evolution of Lake Michigan from an ancient ocean to an inland sea created by the melting of glaciers over the period of 600 million years. The female voices respond to explore the natural features that led to human habitation in Chicago, before all the voices converge to commemorate the 10-foot Lake Michigan seiche that swept several people away on June 26, 1954.

The movement also acknowledges the “skyborne steel fortresses” of Michigan Avenue that were rising up around the same time.

The second movement, and the piece, end with a chorale that brings listeners back to Millennium Park with its many landmarks – from “supple span” the BP Bridge to the “silvered sails” of the Pritzker Pavilion and the “gargoyle’s gaze” of the Crown Fountain, the festival said.

The piece was written by composer Michael Gandolfi, who hails from the Boston suburb of Melrose and was inspired as a youth by 20th century modernists such as Stravinsky and Schoenberg. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the New England Conservatory, and has taught at the institution since 1995 – now serving as chairman of the school’s Composition Department.

In all, “Only Converge: An Exaltation of Place” runs for 27 minutes. It will be preceded on both Friday and Saturday by performances of “Les Préludes” by Franz Liszt; “A Free song” Secular Cantata No. 2 for Chorus and Orchestra by Robert Alexander Schumann, and “Music for the Royal Fireworks” by George Frideric Handel.

Performances start at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Saturday betwixt those silvered sails at the Pritzker Pavilion.