Valentina Peleggi conducts Coleman, Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky at the Grant Park Music Festival

United StatesUnited States Coleman, Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky: Stewart Goodyear (piano), Grant Park Music Festival Orchestra / Valentina Peleggi (conductor). Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago, 29.6.2023. (JLZ)

Valentina Peleggi conducts the Grant Park Music Festival Orchestra © Elliot Mandel

Valerie ColemanUmoja
Saint-Saëns – Piano Concerto No.2
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.4

The City of Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival has a ten-week schedule for the 2023 season that runs from 14 June to 19 August. The concert on 29 June was notable for its inclusion of music by a contemporary composer and an infrequently performed work by Saint-Saëns, as well as a familiar Tchaikovsky symphony.

The program opened with Valerie Coleman’s Umoja, an orchestral piece for women’s chorus. Based on the composer’s 1997 song, it celebrates the Kwanzaa principle of unity. In this instrumental version of the work, Coleman used orchestral colors to support the piece. The structure is clear: Coleman presents her original idea, offers a contrasting section denoted by clearly dissonant sonorities and reprises the original material with full orchestra in lush sounds that resounded in this outdoor milieu. Coleman’s voice is inviting, and for those unfamiliar with her music, Umoja offers a good introduction.

At the center of the program was Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No.2, and the chemistry between guest conductor Valentina Peleggi and soloist Stewart Goodyear made it convincing. Goodyear’s clarity and outstanding technique were present in each movement, and his articulated delivery of the Bach-like textures at the beginning of the first movement was remarkable. He built on that fine opening, and Peleggi supported him in her leadership of the orchestra. The familiar second movement stood out for its virtuosity, as the solo lines in the piano had the appropriate filigree that the piece requires. The interplay between piano and orchestra set this performance apart, as the second movement led directly to Goodyear’s masterful execution of the Presto finale.

Peleggi gave a strong reading of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4 and delineated the timbre, tempos and volume of each movement effectively. The first movement had the drive that the piece needs to work well, and a similar intention was part of the transition from the third movement to the finale. Among the details Peleggi brought out are the contrasting sections that are essential to the piece: the distinctions she brought to the podium were exemplary in revisiting this familiar work.

James Zychowicz

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