Counterstream Radio
Inspect the unexpected
Media on Demand
Browse Music and Interviews

Grant Park Music Festival Presents a World Premiere by Aaron Jay Kernis

Grant Park Music Festival and composer Aaron Jay Kernis collaborate to create a new horn concerto.

The Latest Update


Posted on September 6, 2017 by Grant Park Music Festival

On August 11, 2017, the Grant Park Music Festival performed a world premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Legacy, Concerto for Horn, Strings, Harp and Percussion. The concert was repeated on August 12. Lawrence A. Johnson of Chicago Classical Review described the music as “gracious and well crafted” and horn soloist Jonathan Boen as “a supreme exponent, performing with rounded, glowing tone, seamless technical facility and impeccable control.” The combined audience over the two nights totaled 19,500 Chicagoans and visitors enjoying the performance, free of charge, in the outdoor venue of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Program Notes

Aaron Jay Kernis (born in 1960)


Scored for: strings, harp and percussion

Performance time: 20 minutes

World Premiere, commissioned by the Grant Park Music Festival and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

“I want to write music that is visceral, that is moving, and that is impeccably put together. I don’t want classical music to be a passive experience. I want it to have as much impact as the best rock concerts.” Aaron Jay Kernis, who distilled the essence of his art in these words, is very much a composer for the turn of the millennium — eclectic, brazen, exuberant, aggressive, plugged-in. “I want everything to be included in music,” he says, “soaring melody, consonance, tension, dissonance, drive, relaxation, color, strong harmony and form — and for every possible emotion to be elicited actively by the passionate use of these elements.” Passion, laced with chutzpah, marked his earliest recognition by the music world: when Jacob Druckman, his teacher at Yale and then Composer-in-Residence with the New York Philharmonic, scheduled an open reading of Kernis’ Dream of the Morning Sky at the Philharmonic’s Horizons Festival of new music in June 1983, Kernis vigorously defended his handling of the orchestra after the conductor, Zubin Mehta, criticized it from the podium. Audience and critics were won over, and Kernis was news.

Aaron Jay Kernis was born in Philadelphia on January 15, 1960, and started teaching himself piano and violin at age twelve; he began composing soon thereafter. He took his professional training at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (with John Adams), Manhattan School of Music (Elias Tanenbaum and Charles Wuorinen), Yale (Morton Subotnik, Bernard Rands and, principally, Jacob Druckman) and the American Academy in Rome; he was appointed to the faculty of the Yale University School of Music in 2003. Since his coming-out with Dream of the Morning Sky at that New York Philharmonic concert in 1983, Kernis has created an impressive catalog: significant scores for orchestra (three symphonies, New Era Dance, Invisible Mosaic III, Musica Celestis, a double concerto for guitar and violin, solo concertos for English horn, guitar violin and cello); numerous compositions for varied chamber ensembles; pieces for piano, organ and accordion; and many works for solo voices and for chorus. He has held extended residencies with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Nashville Symphony and Mannes College of Music.

Kernis won the Pulitzer Prize for his String Quartet No. 2 (“Musica Instrumentalis”) in 1998, and the University of Louisville’s prestigious Grawemeyer Award four years later for the cello concerto Colored Field. In addition to the 2012 Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from Northwestern University, for which he fulfilled month-long residencies during 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, his many other distinctions include the Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Guggenheim Fellowship, Rome Prize, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Bearns Prize, New York Foundation for the Arts Award, Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and awards from BMI and ASCAP, as well as many commissions from some of the country’s leading ensembles and institutions; in March 2011 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Kernis fulfilled commissions for works for two significant occasions in the year 2000: one for the centennial celebrations of the Philadelphia Orchestra; the other, from Michael Eisner and the Disney Corporation, observing the arrival of the new millennium. In February 2000, his “permanently installed ambient music” for the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s Museum of Natural History, titled Cosmic Cycle, was first heard. In 1995, Kernis signed an exclusive recording contract with Decca/London, which has released several highly acclaimed albums of his music.


In the months following President Barack Obama’s farewell address in Chicago, I began to turn my thoughts to composing this new horn concerto for tonight’s premiere at the Grant Park Music Festival.

The President’s inspiring summation of the previous eight years of our history rests incongruously next to the daily turmoil that has taken hold since then. A great deal has been written about the idea of the former President’s ‘legacy’: a commitment to protect our air, water, health, children … which, since then is being torn down, many pieces at a time, every single day.

As a creative artist, I think frequently about what I will be able to pass on to my family, and to our world, as I spend my life attempting to create works of beauty, healing, confrontation and ideas. Building, not destroying. I hope my children will appreciate and take part in giving their best to the world that we live in together.

This concerto — titled Legacy — is both an abstract work made up of themes presented in harmonious and conflicting relationships, as well as a record of personal emotions and thoughts transformed into those ideas and into sound.

Legacy is commissioned jointly by the Grant Park Music Festival and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic for their respective principal hornists, Jonathan Boen and Timothy Jackson. It is dedicated to President Barack Obama to honor his humanity, humility, intelligence and inspiration as the nation’s former leader. —Aaron Jay Kernis


The Grant Park Music Festival (GPMF) and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis continue their longstanding relationship in 2017 with the world premiere of a concerto for horn and orchestra, with performances August 11 and 12, 2017. The soloist for the concerto (co-commissioned by GPMF and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic) will be Jonathan Boen, Principal Horn of the Grant Park Orchestra. In conjunction with the premiere, Mr. Kernis will hold a composer residency in Chicago, to include supplementary chamber performances, artistic development activities for young artists, and educational programs for the general public including open rehearsals and other activities.

This commissioning project is a special opportunity for the Festival to be engaged with Mr. Kernis again. Previous collaborations include a 2008 all-Kernis recording by the Grant Park Orchestra which includes his Symphony in Waves, Newly Drawn Sky, and Too Hot Toccata; and performances of his work featured in nine seasons since 1999. The project is in keeping with the Festival’s strategic goal of commissioning new works annually, this being the sixth commission in as many years.

Winner of the coveted 2002 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and the 1998 Pulitzer Prize, Aaron Jay Kernis is among the most esteemed musical figures of his generation. With “fearless originality [and] powerful voice” (The New York Times), Kernis is one of today’s most frequently performed composers. His music, full of variety and dynamic energy, is rich in lyric beauty, poetic imagery, and brilliant instrumental color. His works appear prominently on orchestral, chamber, and recital programs world-wide and have been commissioned by many of America’s foremost performers and institutions, including soprano Renee Fleming, violinists Joshua Bell, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and James Ehnes (for the BBC Proms), pianist Christopher O’Riley and guitarist Sharon Isbin, the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras, and Seattle and San Francisco Symphonies.

Established more than eight decades ago to serve as “the people’s orchestra” of Chicago, the Grant Park Music Festival was conceived by then-Mayor A. J. Cermak as a series of free city-sponsored concerts to lift the spirits of Chicagoans during the Great Depression. Today, the Festival is the nation’s longest-running free outdoor summer classical music series, making outstanding live symphonic and choral performance accessible to Chicagoans of all ages, backgrounds, and means. Featuring the Grammy-nominated Grant Park Orchestra under Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar and the award-winning Grant Park Chorus led by Director Christopher Bell, the Festival annually offers a 10-week season of concerts, artistic development initiatives, radio broadcasts, and community engagement programs, sharing the power of symphonic music with nearly 800,000 residents and visitors each year.

Concert Program:
Friday, August 11, 2017 – 6:30pm
Saturday, August 12, 2017 – 7:30pm

Grant Park Orchestra
Carlos Kalmar, Conductor
Jonathan Boen, Horn

Rimsky-Korsakov: Overture: The Tsar’s Bride

Kernis: Horn Concerto (World Premiere)

Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony

Project Media

Kernis: Too Hot Toccata
Like this? Login or register to make a playlist of your favorites pieces.

Grant Park Music Festival’s 1995 recording of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Too Hot Toccata

Kernis: Flute Concerto, Movement 1
Like this? Login or register to make a playlist of your favorites pieces.

Grant Park Music Festival’s 2005 performance of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Flute Concerto.

Start and End Dates



Chicago, Illinois

1 update
Last update on September 6, 2017

Project Created By

Chicago, Illinois
Established 83 years ago to serve as “the people’s orchestra” of Chicago, the Grant Park Music Festival (GPMF) was conceived by then-Mayor A. J. Cermak as a series of free, city-sponsored concerts to lift the spirits of Chicagoans during the Great Depression. Today, GPMF is the nation’s longest-running free outdoor summer classical music series, making…

In Collaboration With

Artist Management


Leave a Reply