William Bolcom’s exciting Grant Park Music Festival residency concluded with the World Premiere of his new orchestral piece written for the festival, Millennium: Concerto-Fantasia. The piece premiered to a packed Pritzker Pavilion, with an estimated 12,000 filling the Seating Bowl and Great Lawn.
Describing the piece’s genesis and background, Bolcom writes, “In 2000 a fascinating Cambridge University conference on all aspects of time discussed, among other things, the history of century-marking, [and] the presence of the number 60 in minutes & seconds…I was invited to give a paper on the difference between real time and musical time, real time being calibrated by the steady beat of the cesium atom used in Greenwich time and musical time guided by how music goes – fast or slow, excited or calm, formally loose or tight. So many of the institutions of the previous millennium are currently under heavy review…in music, one of them may be the orchestra itself. Many of us have feared the funneling of the opera house, the concert hall, the symphony into one big enclave of the rich musical past. Though there is still a passionate audience, and schools of music and conservatories are turning out very talented artists performing this music, many, many people in our society do not relate to this culture at all. It is clearly up to us in music to invite these people into our enclave and to the many beauties waiting for them.”
Bolcom continues, “Thus Millennium. When Grant Park commissioned me for a work, I drew on my thoughts about time from fourteen years ago and began to think of the orchestra’s history of the last four centuries. The piece is a concerto for orchestra with a progressive musical form. There are several passing sections like chapters in this one-movement piece, played without pause: Introitus, Rockets, Dreamscape: The Love Dream, Rude Awakenings, and A Conclusion, for Now.”
Bolcom concludes his thoughts with great sentimentality, writing, “…Millennium has the positive charge of being premiered in a millennial park in a vibrant, evolving city. And here we all are together in this park, hearing a new piece.”
The work received a warm reception, and 10,000 more attended the next evening’s concert, where Bolcom’s Millennium closed Grant Park Music Festival’s 80th Anniversary season.
Lawrence A. Johnson, contributor to The Classical Review, commented on the World Premiere: “The opening “Introitus” starts with primitive beginnings, here painted in irregular timpani strokes and rattlesnake-like percussion. Other instruments join in and timbres coalesce, leading to “Rockets” where the pounding timpani and showy bravura reflect the late-18th-century Mannheim School and its popular effect of fast and brilliant upward string flourishes (the “Mannheim rocket”). The Romantic era is represented by “Dreamscape: The Love Dream,” where a lyrical violin solo, well played by Jeremy Black, is taken up by all the front-desk principals. The soaring music for string quartet builds to a climax.
The reverie is broken (“Rude Awakenings”) with a rhythmic trumpet motif and edgy chords that segue into an uneasy stillness with a Mahler-esque horn theme against sustained violins. A ticking clock-like transition leads to the final section (“A Conclusion, for Now”), with the sense of time accelerating once again. After aggressive fast music punctuated by dissonant chords, the tempo slows and the music ends quietly with shimmering strings and a hopeful rising theme for harp.
A colleague clocked Millennium at 15 minutes—about a third shorter than the program indicated—yet the work feels right at this length. The music is pure Bolcom—quirkily iconoclastic with restless, dynamic energy, and scored with ease and panache with brief moments in the spotlight for several Grant Park principals. Kalmar and the orchestra gave Millennium a fizzing and hugely energized sendoff with the composer joining them on stage to share in the applause.”
Grant Park Music Festival offers heartfelt thanks to William Bolcom for his stunning composition, as well as the time he devoted to coachings, rehearsals, and audience lectures. An estimated 37,500 people were treated to Bolcom’s music throughout the week.
Photo: Composer Bolcom onstage at Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Photo credit: Chris Sweda