Jubilant Sykes isn't a large man, but he can rattle the rafters of a cavernous concert hall--his limpid, exuberant high baritone is unspoiled by the artifice or timidity that bedevils so many other classically trained vocalists when they stray from opera. Sykes thrives in traditionally African-American genres: he played Jake in the Met's 1990 production of Porgy and Bess; he delivers stirring renditions of hymns and spirituals; and his 1998 debut CD, Jubilant, a collaboration with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, blends jazz and gospel. But he's also sung classical heavyweights like Beethoven's Symphony no. 9 and Mozart's Requiem Mass, done light holiday shows with the Boston Pops, and taken on supporting roles in operas like Bizet's Carmen and Cavalli's Calisto. The California native's first concert with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra was last July at the Medinah Temple, and he's back in front of the orchestra this year to open the 65th season of the Grant Park Music Festival. They'll perform a generous set of spirituals; Someday Memories, a short, festive instrumental by Pulitzer winner Joseph Schwantner; and Copland's Old American Songs, a suite of deceptively plain traditional melodies that will test Sykes's knack for subtle dramatic shading. And he's sure to get ardent support from the GPSO, since its roster is thick with Lyric Opera veterans who've learned how to give a singer a lift. The conductor will be Gerhardt Zimmermann, an Ohioan who's headed the North Carolina Symphony since 1982; he excels with lighter pieces like the Schwantner. The second half of this free program is devoted to Dvorak's Symphony no. 9 (From the New World). Saturday, 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): photo/Phil Fewsmith.