By Nancy Malitz
Founded in 1904 as a rambling wooded amusement park about an hour north of Chicago, Ravinia was developed to lure riders onto a fledgling Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railroad line. Its early attractions included a baseball diamond, a casino and visits by the New York Philharmonic and dance pioneers Ruth Page and Ted Shawn. Now billed as the oldest outdoor music festival in North America, the Ravinia Festival since 1936 has been the summer base for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. James Conlon has been music director of festival since 2005.
The open-sided pavilion seats 3,200, but most people enjoy the events on the broad lawn, with blankets, picnic coolers, big-screen video, piped-in sound and an open sky. Headliner jazz, blues, folk and rock concerts fill out the pavilion calendar, with a parallel run of recitals and chamber events in nearby enclosures. Welz Kauffman, president and CEO, says he wants both pop and classical audiences to branch out a bit: “The more cross-pollinating the better.”
Thus, college students can sit on the lawn free at Chicago Symphony concerts. And along with visits by classical music icons, programing includes multimedia and contemporary riffs on the classical canon. Selected highlights:
June 14 – Benny Goodman tribute on the 75th anniversary of his Ravinia Festival debut, six months after the historic Carnegie Hall concert.
June 23 – Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” Recomposed: British composer Max Richter‘s cutting edge homage to Vivaldi, with British violinist Daniel Hope and conductor Tito Muñoz of New York City’s Le Poisson Rouge.
July 1 – Baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Alexander Schmalz: Mahler and Schumann settings of Friedrich Rückert.
July 13 – “Silver Rain”: Soprano Nicole Cabell, 2005 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, joins composer and pianist Ricky Ian Gordon in his musical settings of Langston Hughes poems.
July 16 – “Brooklesca”: Highlights from the musical world tour of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider.
July 17 – Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov in Britten’s Violin Concerto, as part of the Chicago Symphony’s Britten centennial celebration with James Conlon.
July 27 – Pianist Lang Lang returns to the site of his last-minute debut, as a 17-year-old Curtis student, when he subbed for the ailing Andre Watts. Beethoven’s Concerto No. 1 and Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3 with Conlon.
August 3 – Aida in concert: Soprano Latonia Moore, whose Met debut as Aida came on a day’s notice in 2012, joins tenor Roberto Alagna as Radames and soprano Michelle DeYoung as Amneris with Conlon.
August 5-6 – Takács String Quartet: Over two nights, the complete Bartók Quartets.
August 26 – The Little Match Girl Passion: David Lang’s re-imagined children’s fairy tale, which was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008, along with works performed by the contemporary sextet eighth blackbird.
September 7 – John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary: Midwest premiere of the massive re-telling of the last days of Christ from the standpoint of a suffering modern-day heroine, concert version. (The work is also touring Europe in a new dramatized form by Peter Sellars.) Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon conducting, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor.
For a complete calendar, click here. For visitor information, see the Festival’s online information page or call the box office at 847-266-5100. Online ticket sales begin April 25. Click here for details.
Nancy Malitz is publisher of Chicago On the Aisle, an online arts magazine, and former music critic of USA Today, The Detroit News, and the Cincinnati Enquirer.