The Viennese waltz has been synonymous with year-end revelry at least since 1874, when Johann Strauss Jr. scored the New Year's Eve party in his operetta Die Fledermaus with waltzes. The seductive, lilting feel of the waltz, cozily familiar to ballroom dancers the world over, depends on a delicate and rigorous approach to its 3/4 meter: each lighthearted glide and turn must also carry the tang of suspense, which comes from a slight drag at the end of every measure. (No less a curmudgeon than H.L. Mencken was once moved to call the waltz "sneaking, insidious, disarming, lovely," even "magnificently improper--the art of tone turned lubricious.") For this New Year's Eve program--the second half of which is made up entirely of waltzes--Carlos Kalmar, the director of the Grant Park Orchestra, will conduct a 65-piece ensemble drawn principally from the ranks of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Born to Austrian parents in Uruguay, Kalmar has called Vienna home since his formative years, and some of the city's historical infatuation with the waltz has rubbed off on him. The Viennese like to think of themselves as the custodians of the form--its rhythm was derived from an Austrian country dance called the landler, and many waltz melodies were borrowed from folk tunes sung in taverns along the Danube--and in truth, Viennese conductors (Kalmar among them) seem to have an exquisite feel for the pace and timing of the music, as well as for the proper mix of sophistication and schmaltz. Kalmar has whipped the GPO into its best shape in years, and should have no trouble coaxing fine performances from the CSO players, as well as from the evening's featured soloist, soprano Jonita Lattimore. The first half of the program consists of two celebrated Mozart arias, from Cosi fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro, as well as the instrumental overture from The Magic Flute; highlights of the second half include two pieces by Strauss, the Emperor Waltz and a personal favorite of mine, the irresistibly lively and suggestive Accelerations Waltz, in which the music whirls from a lugubrious start to a frenzied finale. Monday, December 31, 9 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Leonard Gertz.