The Grant Park Orchestra’s new principal conductor, Carlos Kalmar, is a 42-year-old Uruguayan of Austrian parentage who got much of his musical training in Vienna. He’s still very much an unknown, though he’s done a tour of duty with orchestras in Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Dessau and in this country has risen from third-tier regional orchestras to Grant Park. At his Grant Park gigs the past two summers, he showed a flair for phrasing, a penchant for rubato, and a knack for making music sound exciting. But we didn’t really get to see whether he has an affinity for American music, a recent strength of the 66-year-old Grant Park Music Festival, which claims to be the only free outdoor classical series in the country. On Saturday, the festival’s opening night, he’s scheduled two works by American stalwarts. The orchestra has performed a surfeit of Bernstein in the last decade, so it could probably play the suite from his Fancy Free without a conductor. Andre Previn’s 1992 song cycle Honey & Rue, with its gentle wistfulness and heartfelt outbursts, should reveal more. Set to text by Toni Morrison that describes a black woman’s feelings about the small triumphs and setbacks in her life, it relies heavily on the American vernacular to achieve a variety of moods–it’s more Tin Pan Alley than Mahler. It will be sung by soprano Kathleen Battle, for whom it was written, so Kalmar will have the additional task of reining in a mercurial diva whose voice is no longer in its prime (she’ll also sing an aria from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro). The Sunday program features an unusual juxtaposition: Pictures at an Exhibition, a festival perennial, and two top-notch though seldom performed 20th-century Hungarian choral works, Bartok’s Cantata Profana and Kodaly’s Psalmus Hungaricus. The performances, in English, will feature the Grant Park Chorus, tenor Joseph Harris, and baritone Christopher Scott Feigum. Saturday and Sunday, 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/Leonard Gertz.