Extraordinary Performances at Ravinia

The honor of presenting Leon Fleisher is one of the great joys of an arts administrator. To be able to present this legend so soon after his 80th birthday and in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto is icing on the cake. And as a longtime Ravinia patron mentioned to me, she believes it was 60 years ago yesterday that the late, great, and much lamented William Kapell played the same Beethoven Concerto – a fitting and sublime coincidence for two extraordinary American pianists.

It has also been a pleasure this week to see the fascinating Lang Lang profile in the New Yorker and, in the same magazine, mention of the latest Broadway opening for Bill T. Jones, one of Ravinia’s commission-ees for the Lincoln Bicentennial in 2009.

But the true event of recent days was James Conlon’s much lauded performance of the Mahler Eighth Symphony with the CSO, the CSO Chorus in celebration of their 50th anniversary, the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, Chicago Children’s Choir and eight terrific soloists. Even the cicadas were charmed, silencing their ecstatic rattle just before the phrase. “The ineffable here is accomplished…”

Welz Kauffman


Young Artists & Patrons Thrive at Ravinia

The last couple of weeks at Ravinia have spawned a lot of discussion about age and experience. We have had three extraordinary young virtuosos join us – Denis Matsuev, Lang Lang and Chris Thile – and response was remarkable. Matsuev, who is working closely with Vladimir Putin on arts issues in Russia, brought an old-fashioned virtuosity to his concerts with the CSO and in the Martin Theatre – virtuosity that has been regarded as a negative by much of the classical music establishment who seem suspicious of anything that gets a strong, positive audience reaction. Lang Lang brought rock-star glamour and popularity to the Park, spending hours signing copies of his autobiography (yes, at 26 years old, an autobiography!) and talking about his upcoming appearance at the opening of the Beijing Olympics. And Chris Thile, mandolin expert and intrepid bluegrass explorer, wowed his devoted fans. At the other end of the spectrum, Bernard Haitink, Barbara Cook, Charles Rosen and Kiri Te Kanawa have all shone brightly, bringing wisdom, pacing, and the power only experience can deliver to their performances.

One of the many things I appreciate about Ravinia is its welcoming of diversity – not only ethnic, but also age. In the classical music world, where we know that folks begin purchasing tickets to orchestral concerts at age 45, on average, we do everything we can to celebrate and honor our more experienced patrons – from programming, to the start time of performances, to the upgrading of our dining opportunities. And at the same time, one of the happiest sounds at Ravinia comes not from our stages, but from the lawn, where the giggles and gurgles of our youngest patrons inspire smiles all through the Park – kids getting great music and enjoying family time.

One of the first Ravinia patrons I encountered was the dignified and elegant Kay Mayer, a devoted music lover who actually attended the one and only Ravinia performance by George Gershwin in 1936! Kay passed in her sleep recently – she will be sorely missed.

Welz Kauffman


New Friends at Ravinia

It’s been a week of new friends at Ravinia.

First, Feist, and artist who brought a crowd of folks not typically seen at Ravinia – probably more a Pitchfork or Lollapalooza crowd – and folks very welcome at Ravinia and who enjoyed the beauty, serenity, and, by the by, a terrific performance.

Then Bernard Haitink, in his long awaited Ravinia debut, warming up his powerful, searing Mahler 6 with the CSO for their tour together to Europe. The Ravinia crowd, having heard the Sixth last summer under Conlon as part of his Mahler cycle, was bowled over by Haitink’s interpretation and not at all concerned that he’d just done it downtown. Performances such as these, conductors such as Haitink, are few and far between and should be savored whenever they appear – and the weather gods, while predicting 95 degrees, dropped to a balmy 75 by concert time making for a gorgeous evening.

And then there is the Rach/Rock star, Denis Matsuev, blowing everyone away with a Rachmaninoff Third Concerto (exquisitely accompanied by Slatkin and the CSO) with the weather gods providing highly appropriate thunder and lightning topped only by Matsuev’s pyrotechnics. And then he provided a packed Martin Theater with rarities by the Russian master, a sizzling and intimate Second Sonata, and four encores by Russian Romantic giants – Rachmaninoff’s G Minor Prelude (also an encore at the CSO performance but this time captured for WFMT), Scriabin’s fiendishly difficult Op.8 no. 12 Etude, Liadov’s charming Music Box, and Ginsburg’s arrangement of Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg from Peer Gynt – fitting for a true king of the keyboard.

Welz Kauffman


Rock for Reading at Ravinia

In 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts published Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America. Among the many startling statistics about literacy in the United States, the study showed that Americans are spending less time reading, reading comprehension skills are eroding, and these declines have serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications. Worse yet, approximately one in three Chicagoans is considered functionally illiterate, and Illinois' literacy rate ranks 34 out of the 50 states.

In that same year, musician Alice Peacock decided to do something about it. Peacock founded Rock For Reading, which “leverages the power of ROCK to inspire literacy - motivating and empowering people to enrich their lives through reading.”

Peacock, who calls Chicago home, has played Ravinia twice before. I’m really excited that Ravinia is partnering with her charity for such an important cause. R4R has made some huge strides in promoting literacy here in Illinois, and its success has shown that people and communities working together can make a substantial difference. When she performs at Ravinia Festival in support of John Hiatt on July 18, you can help by bringing gently used books for grades Kindergarten through 8 to donate. Just drop off your donations at the West Gate, then enjoy the concert! If you love reading, have kids that love reading or are still a book-loving kid yourself, please do your part by giving your books to kids who need them.

Liv Swenson
Communications Intern


James Conlon Wins Galileo 2000

Adding to a long and impressive list of awards and honors, American conductor and Ravinia Music Director James Conlon was awarded the Galileo 2000 Prize from the Foundazione Premio Galileo 2000 in Florence, Italy. He is the 12th recipient of the music prize titled the “Giglio d’Ora” (Golden Lily). Conlon was honored for his valuable contribution to music, art and peace.

Debuting in 1974 with the New York Philharmonic, Conlon has appeared with virtually every major North American and European orchestra. Conlon’s immense and diversified symphonic, operatic, and choral repertoire earned him countless other past awards including; the Crystal Globe Award from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in 2007, the Zemlinsky Prize in 1999, and the Opera News Award in 2005. He also received France’s highest distinction – the Légion d’Honneur in 2002.

Heather Haigh
Marketing Intern