Armstrong was the first great international star I ever saw in person. The press coverage of his Ravinia debut not only endorsed my choice, but befitted a larger occasion as well. Jazz was still very new to Ravinia then, and it still seemed utterly contradictory to mention the two words in the same sentence. When Benny Goodman had appeared at Ravinia in August 1938, fresh from his triumph at Carnegie Hall earlier that year, the young crowds seemed to frighten the park management, even as the dollars they brought in wiped away an entire season’s deficit in two hours. But it would be 17 years before jazz would be invited back to Ravinia.
I was surprised when I encountered a 1957 ad for the “Ravinia” Webcor turntable with very little information about its connection to Ravinia. At first I thought maybe it was just a coincidence that it shared the name of America’s oldest music festival, but further digging uncovered another ad from 1954 that gets as close as possible to referencing the festival itself without explicitly doing so. It states, “… you have the unmistakable impression that a ‘live’ orchestra is performing in your presence. That’s why the experts call the Ravinia’s performance—‘living presence.’” Coincidence? I think not.
One month from today, Nicola Benedetti will be giving the world premiere of Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra, co-commissioned for her by Ravinia and that ensemble, along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. On the opening night of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 80th-anniversary residency at Ravinia, she will be performing the American premiere of the work with conductor Cristian Măcelaru (who, coincidentally, will be making his Ravinia debut).
Over the past four months, I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing so many unique, diverse, and loyal Ravinia customers and performers. Whether it was a young couple in love, a group of friends who have been coming here for years, or Ramsey Lewis surrounded by the love and support of his family, their thoughts, stories, and joy echoed the very sentiment that brought me here looking for an internship.
As the 2015 Ravinia season came to an end, I found time to reflect on the #FromTheLawn campaign and compiled a list of some of my favorites from the season.
The September 6 O.A.R. concert was especially memorable for Sarah and Nick of Waukegan; it doubled as their wedding day, complete with ceremony and reception on Ravinia’s gorgeous lawn. Ravinia is a popular formal wedding venue, but this couple earned points for creativity by fashioning a wedding experience completely unique to themselves. We got in touch with the happy couple to learn more.
Nine months before Obama’s historic announcement last winter, Ravinia had already significantly connected with the government of Cuba. In March 2014 an ensemble of young chamber musicians, alumni of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (the festival’s summer conservatory), performed in Havana’s Festival de Música de Cámara.
“We got very lucky. We met the right people at the right time,” Plonsker elaborates. “I see Ravinia as a leader. We got there on an official basis before any other group, and we are operating at a very high level of cultural exchange.”
What many residents don’t know about, however, is Ravinia’s efforts throughout the year to bring music and music education to underprivileged students in Lake and Cook counties, as well as to provide music instruction to Highland Park students.
As an intern at Ravinia this summer, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Ravinia is much more than just concerts. In reality, Ravinia is about the experience, the tight community culture, and all the small things we do here that may (or may not!) go unnoticed by the concert-goers, but help make it an exciting place to be a part of.
As the 2015 season comes to a close and nostalgia starts to set in, I wanted to relive some of those moments from this summer. Join me on a trip down memory lane with my 7 favorite moments from the 2015 season.
“I broke into Ravinia before I played it,” chuckles O.A.R. saxophonist Jerry DePizzo. “A friend of mine lives in Highland Park, and every year he would tell me that we had to play Ravinia. I would always tell him that we play downtown, and Ravinia was in the suburbs. [Laughs] But I was staying at his house a few years back and we ended up jumping the fence to see it—and it was beautiful.”
Though shortening daylight puts the end of summer clearly within sight, it also signals that anticipation for the next Ravinia season is beginning to grow ever larger. As the festival marks the 80th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s annual residency—the centerpiece of each season—in 2016 Ravinia also celebrates the 45th anniversary of the debut of the conductor who would become the residency’s steward for 20 years: James Levine. In addition to the long-awaited return of this longtime, former music director, Ravinia also welcomes six new faces to the podium,