Turn To The World: A Whitman Cantata • World-premiere reviews and photos

Carlos Kalmar conducts the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus in the Grant Park Music Festival’s world premiere of Kareem Roustom’s Turn to the World: A Whitman Cantata, June 14, 2019, Jay Pritkzer Pavilion in Millennium Park. Photo by Norman Timonera.

The Chicago Tribune wrote: “Nothing spotlights the Grant Park Music Festival’s value more significantly than the premieres it commissions, and an impressive one took place on Friday night.  At first glance, “Turn to the World: A Whitman Cantata” – by composer-in-residence Kareem Roustom – might have suggested a look back at the 19th century ethos of poet Walt Whitman. But the Whitman texts the Syrian-American composer quoted seemed carefully chosen to speak to our times. ‘Turn to the World: A Whitman Cantata’ stood as searing social commentary and, as such, should win many performances to come.” 

Composer Kareem Roustom before the Grant Park Music Festival’s world premiere of Roustom’s Turn to the World: A Whitman Cantata, June 14, 2019, Jay Pritkzer Pavilion in Millennium Park. Photo by Norman Timonera.

Adaptistration wrote: “Written for the GPMF, this world premiere introduced a work that was powerful, profound, and perhaps most importantly, relevant.  From beginning to end, the 18-minute work grabbed the listener by the collar and delivered a transformative experience. It was helped in large part by never being afraid to use every element of the full orchestra and chorus to its most powerful effect. It left me feeling like I was a better person than the one who showed up at the beginning of the concert.”

Composer Kareem Roustom with conductor Carlos Kalmar following the Grant Park Music Festival’s world premiere of Roustom’s Turn to the World: A Whitman Cantata, June 14, 2019, Jay Pritkzer Pavilion in Millennium Park. Photo by Norman Timonera.

Classical Voice North America:With strident trumpets, drum rolls, and driving strings, Roustom’s sharp-edged music courses with urgency and grandeur befitting Whitman’s biting text. It builds admirably in intensity until reaching the quieter third movement, with a lone trumpet and other delicate orchestral accents accompanying the four-stanza poem “Roaming in Thought (After reading Hegel).” Then, in a masterstroke, Roustom opens the hopeful, uplifting fourth movement, which looks to a potentially brighter future in the poem “Turn O Libertad,” with the chorus singing the first stanzas a cappella, a sudden, unexpected switch that drives home the force of the words. Overall, it is a powerful, emphatic work that seems just the right length – making its point and not unduly lingering. Roustom has written six previous choral works, and he clearly understands how to write for the voice.”