As a creative response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, Mayor Anton Cermak joined forces with James C. Petrillo, the president of the musicians union, to begin what would become a beloved Chicago summertime tradition in Chicago. The Chicago Park District formed the Grant Park Orchestra under the direction of Principal Conductor Nicolai Malko in 1935. Over the ensuing decades, principal conductors of the Grant Park Orchestra included such illustrious figures as Irwin Hoffman, Leonard Slatkin, David Zinman, Zdenek Macal, and Hugh Wolff, culminating with the appointment of Carlos Kalmar in 2000.
In 1962, the Grant Park Chorus was established under the direction of Thomas Peck, and subsequently led by Michael Cullen (1994-97) and a series of guest conductors until the appointment of current Chorus Director Christopher Bell in 2002.
The Festival has had several homes during its history. A temporary fan-shaped bandshell was constructed on the south portion of Grant Park, near the Field Museum for the first four decades of the concert series. In 1978 the Festival moved to the Petrillo Bandshell, named after the Festivals founder. And in 2004, Millennium Park opened and the Grant Park Music Festival moved in to the state-of-the-art Jay Prtizker Pavilion designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.
Over the past decade, under the leadership of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar and Chorus Director Christopher Bell, the Grant Park Music Festival has established a reputation for providing adventurous programing at world-class standards, in an environment welcoming and accessible to all.
The Festival operates today as a unique collaboration among the Grant Park Orchestral Association, the City of Chicago, and the Chicago Park District. The contributions of corporations, foundations, and thousands of individual donors help keep the music playing all summer long.
Mission: Chicago's free outdoor classical music tradition since 1935.
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