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Grant Park Symphony Orchestra

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GRANT PARK SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Philip Glass's Violin Concerto (1987), his earliest orchestral work, shows both the appeal and the limitations of minimalism. Its sonorities can mesmerize, evoking the meditative ecstasy that marks much Tibetan Buddhist music, and the soloist leaps and glides in marvelous arabesques. But Glass merely nods to the three-movement convention, differentiating the segments with sudden changes in tempo that don't always adhere to a deeper logic. The same disregard for structural variety plagues the piece's smaller segues: within a given rhythmic pattern, Glass can vary a chord incrementally, with excruciating subtlety, but between patterns he seems limited to clunky and abrupt shifts. And Glass pays scant attention to the distinctive personalities of the instrumental sections in a standard orchestra, which he tends to treat as his own chamber group writ large--as a massive generator of pulsing chords. Only the soloist is allowed to prance, soar, posture--sometimes oblivious to what's going on behind him. This Grant Park Symphony Orchestra performance features Robert McDuffie, a violinist who has made a specialty of championing new works by American masters like Glass and Stephen Paulus. A Georgia native now based in New York, McDuffie studied with Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard and has carved out a career playing with both first- and second-tier orchestras nationwide. Although his ingratiating stage presence can seem smarmy--and although he has a weakness for threadbare showstoppers--McDuffie plays with loads of technical finesse and obviously takes great joy in his work. He and the Grant Parkers--who are fairly fluent in minimalism, having performed works by Glass, Gorecki, and John Adams in the past few years--will be guided by Hugh Wolff, the Grant Park festival's erstwhile overseer and now a music director of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Also on the program are Rachmaninoff's seldom heard Symphonic Dances, which Wolff will conduct again on Saturday, in the festival's finale. Friday, 7:30 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson; 312-742-4763. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Robert McDufie photo by J. Henry Fair; Hugh Wolff photo by Eric Saulitas.

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