This is one summer when local classical music lovers — and this means you — may want to skip the usual out-of-town cultural expeditions, avoid the hassles of air and car travel, and simply take advantage of the listening bounty that awaits right here on the city's doorstep. A great many concerts cost nothing, including the Grant Park Music Festival, the weekly Rush Hour Concerts at St. James Cathedral in downtown Chicago and the Rush Hour-produced Make Music Chicago, a daylong, citywide celebration June 21.
There's plenty more, of course, but for now you will want to pay particular attention to what the area's biggest summer festivals, Ravinia and Grant Park, are offering, beginning in mid-June. Here are some highlights:
Carlos Kalmar conducts Benjamin Britten: The British composer's centenary is inspiring all sorts of local tributes this year, few of them as auspicious as the Grant Park Music Festival performances of his deeply moving “War Requiem.” Joining artistic director Kalmar will be the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, Chicago Children's Choir and vocal soloists. June 28-29, Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, near Randolph Drive and Michigan Avenue; 312-742-7638, gpmf.org
Kalmar conducts Schubert, Adams: Director Christopher Bell's superb Grant Park Chorus will grace the final weeks of the festival with performances of major choral repertory we don't get to hear very often: Schubert's sublime Mass in E flat (Aug. 9-10) and John Adams' “Harmonium,” based on poems by John Donne and Emily Dickinson (Aug. 16-17). Stravinsky's “The Rite of Spring” shares the season finale with the Adams work. Pritzker Pavilion. 312-742-7638, gpmf.org
Verdi's “Aida” at Ravinia: James Conlon, the Chicago Symphony's summer music director, has long been celebrated as a master Verdi interpreter. Find out why when he leads a concert version of Verdi's greatest hit, presented in honor of the composer's bicentennial. Heading the cast will be Roberto Alagna as Radames and Latonia Moore as Aida, both making Ravinia debuts. Aug. 3, Ravinia Festival, 200-231 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park; $25 and $100 (reserved), $10 lawn; 847-266-5100, ravinia.org
David Lang's “The Little Match Girl Passion” at Ravinia: The American minimalist composer won the Pulitzer Prize for his affecting modern take on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. It will receive its area debut courtesy of the Chicago contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird. Aug. 26 in Martin Theatre, 200-231 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park; $35, $10 lawn; 847-266-5100, ravinia.org
“The Gospel According to the Other Mary” at Ravinia: The biggest classical event of the Ravinia summer will be the Midwest premiere of John Adams' Passion-cum-oratorio, which depicts Christ's crucifixion and resurrection through the words of contemporary women writers. It will be given here by the conductor (Grant Gershon), chorus (Los Angeles Master Chorale) and soloists (including sopranos Kelly O'Connor and Tamara Mumford) for whom it was composed. Sept. 7, Ravinia, 200-231 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park; $25-$50, $10 lawn; 847-266-5100, ravinia.org