The typical summer festival has at least some programming that looks insane in retrospect, as in, "Whatever made us think we could do that?"
Sometimes it all works in spite of itself. Yet one must wonder what the Grant Park Music Festival programmers were dreaming when they decided to cram Shostakovich's monumental Symphony No. 10 and John Adams' "The Chairman Dances" as midweek filler in a huge choral-orchestral sandwich.
On the previous weekend, the Grant Park forces impressively delivered Franz Schmidt's demanding two-hour rarity, "The Book With Seven Seals." Coming on Friday is Verdi's Requiem, another huge work, to end the festival season. But in between was some rather limp lettuce.
When an orchestra does two complete programs a week instead of one, it means the rehearsals per concert are fewer than usual. Sometimes that's good, because musicians push themselves like runners training for a marathon, and serendipity plays its part. A little panic and adrenaline can add up to pure exhilaration.
The musicians of the Grant Park Festival orchestra and chorus form a stable ensemble, with conductor Carlos Kalmar and choral director Christopher Bell long in their respective roles. But the Shostakovich 10th has one of the most profound opening movements of the 20th century symphony repertoire, and "The Chairman Dances," is a sly, slinky, surreal and high-energy trick to pull off.
The Grant Park forces were getting from beat to beat. Forget grand arc, deep impact.
On this hot summer night, the place to be was with the thousands of folks on the outer lawn — sipping a wine, sitting on a blanket and grooving to the mellow rhythms as they mingled with the ambient sounds of motorcycles, sirens and helicopters — paying closer attention when the music got loud.
Sort of like going to "Romeo and Juliet" for the sword fights.