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Chicago: Millenium Park

Millenium Park is the northwest corner of Chicago’s vast Grant Park between Lake Michigan and Michigan Avenue. Its crown jewel, Frank Gehry’s Pritzger Pavilion, replaced the old band shell. I lived in Chicago in 1979 when Pope John Paul II, the Polish Pope, visited the city. Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw and many feared the park would collapse into the subterranean parking structures when two million people came for Pontiff’s public Mass in Grant Park.

Millenium Park officially opened in 2004 and has been continuously tweaked into one of the finest public spaces in the world. The park includes not only the Pritzger Pavilion (bandshell) but also the perennial crowd favorites, the “bean” — artist Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate — and Catalan conceptual artist Jaime Plensa’s Crown Fountain, an interactive work of public art integrating fountains and video sculpture, a wondrous, watery playground for children of all ages. The park also features an ice-skating rink in winter and sprawling gardens. The silver bridge was Frank Gehry’s first bridge and provides an entry to a bandshell like no other.

A 2007 photo shows the general layout of Gehry’s pavilion and bridge.

I was in Chicago June 20-22 for the Chicago Symphony’s concert version of Verdi’s Aida under the baton of Music Director Ricardo Muti, and for the Manet exhibition at the Art Institute, across the street (or the bridge) from Millenium Park. I lived in Chicago, my father’s home town, for a total of fifteen discontinuous years, and I was blown away by how it reinvented its historic center as a fantastic, user-friendly, and fascinating public space.

Crown Fountain, detail, with Michigan Avenue as backdrop.
Opposite view. Playful is the operative word. The faces change to represent every race and nationality. Vertical fountains and sprinklers across the entire field between the screen go off at intervals as do the spouts from the large video faces.
Lurie Garden, looking north toward Pritzger Pavilion.
Pritzger Pavilion with picnic lawn for free summer concerts.
I stumbled into the orchestra rehearsing Shostakovich’s First Symphony for that night’s free concert. The acoustic is astonishing. The Pavilion has 4,000 fixed seats and a lawn that accommodates 7,000. Note the orchestra plays in a resonant wooden soundbox, while the brushed stainless superstructure unfurls around it projecting waves of warm, natural sound. An innovative sound system is embedded in the metal framework over the picnic field to reproduce concert hall acoustics.
The Nichols Bridgeway connects Millenium Park to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Michigan Avenue from the bridgeway.
The pavilion seen from the Art Institute.
Garden Cafe, Art Institute
Balcony Cafe, Art Institute, where I charged my phone.
The bean, Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate”, looking west toward Michigan Avenue.
Looking south.
Looking north.

Looking west into the Loop’s Madison Avenue
The Chicago Athletic Association, 1893 (Venetian gothic) on Michigan Avenue
Nothing about the Loop is complete without a picture of the el (elevated) train from which it derives its name. The track runs in a square more than a loop enclosing the original business and entertainment center.
(A fragment of ) the Art Institute and Lake Michigan beyond, viewed from Orchestra Hall across Michigan Avenue. You can’t see them in this size photo but the names chiseled into the stone entablature are “Correggio Holbein Veronese Tintoretto Rubens Velazquez.”

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