Equally fluent on organ, harpsichord, and piano, David Schrader has played programs ranging from the early Baroque to the here and now. He’s demonstrated aesthetic and historical curiosity with his recordings for a local label, Cedille–for example, by reviving the sonatas of 18th-century Spanish composer Antonio Soler–and the same venturesome impulse must’ve guided him in his selection of two obscure pieces for these concerts with the Grant Park Orchestra. Walter Piston’s Prelude and Allegro for Organ and Strings and Michael Colgrass’s Snow Walker don’t often appear on symphony programs because they both require a first-rate organ and a first-rate organist–a combination that’s perhaps easier to arrange in the world of church music than in orchestral circles. Piston wrote the Prelude and Allegro for E. Power Biggs, a celebrated organist who raised the instrument’s public profile in the 40s and 50s by scouring libraries to enrich its repertoire and performing regularly on the radio. Biggs first played the piece for a broadcast in 1943, and unsurprisingly it balances a somber meditation on the devastation of war with an optimistic conclusion that seems to acknowledge the prospect of heroism. The organ “speaks” in three distinct voices, engaging in a series of polyphonic exchanges with itself; Schrader ought to be able to weave them together with clarity and purpose. Colgrass’s Snow Walker, a baldly programmatic work inspired by Inuit mythology, cycles through a wider variety of moods: mysterious, celebratory, humorous, transcendent. The organ sometimes plays the role of an advancing storm, which Colgrass conflates with the Snow Walker, the Inuit image of death and transfiguration; the orchestra is called upon to evoke, among other things, the sounds of wind and wolves, the rhythms of Inuit throat singing, the shifting patterns of the aurora, and the formation and disintegration of an iceberg, from the moment it splits from a glacier to its slow melting at sea. The second half of the bill consists of Copland’s Symphony no. 3, and the entire program will be recorded for release by Cedille. The concerts will be held in Symphony Center to accommodate Taste of Chicago, a move that will provide a respite from Grant Park’s background din and subpar acoustics; Carlos Kalmar conducts. Saturday and Sunday, July 7 and 8, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-742-4763.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/William Burlingham.