After several seasons in search of a suitable principal maestro, the Grant Park Music Festival has landed a real catch. At 41, Hugh Wolff is in the ranks of such up-and-coming Americans as Gerard Schwarz and James Conlon, both poised to head major orchestras within the next decade. Certainly he has the right credentials: a Harvard diploma, studying piano with Leon Fleisher and composition with big-shot avant-gardist George Crumb, and enagagements with the requisite leading ensembles on both sides of the Atlantic. Wolff is no stranger to Chicago, having conducted at Grant Park and toured the area with the well-regarded Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (for which he’s music director). Both live and on CD, he’s shown a flair for thoughtful and spirited interpretations. Though his strength seems to be in the Baroque, non-Germanic 19th-century, and modern American repertoires, Wolff is also an enthusiastic and often persuasive champion of new music. What’s more, he fits the Leonard Bernstein mold: a musical democrat who can talk passionately to the media about the delights of music making. Wolff’s intelligent approach to programming is also commendable–and this weekend he’ll lead the Grant Park Symphony in a pair of double bills. The first (Friday) couples Berlioz with Ravel (and includes the latter’s unconventional Piano Concerto for the Left Hand), and the second (Saturday and Sunday) places Bernstein back-to-back with Dvorak, connecting the two composers’ mastery of the vernacular. Fleisher, Wolff’s erstwhile piano coach, is the soloist in the Ravel; Robert McDuffie is the violinist in Bernstein’s rarely heard 1954 Serenade. Preconcert talks start at 7 PM Saturday and 6 PM Sunday. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 7 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson; 819-0614.

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