Ravinia Magazine

Key Change: David Foster Embraces a New Muse in a Relatively Major (Broad)way

What Foster is doing is creating his first Broadway musical, a show based on the 1930s’ wide-eyed, Jazz Age flapper animated cartoon character Betty Boop. A creative team of Broadway A-listers has signed on for the project, including director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose work includes the recently premiered Pretty Woman: The Musical, the Gloria Estefan bio-musical On Your Feet, and Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s critically acclaimed Kinky Boots (all three of which had their pre-Broadway tryouts in Chicago). Veteran television scribe Sally Robinson is writing the book, and Foster’s score will boast lyrics by Tony Award nominee Susan Birkenhead.

“It’s my first try at Broadway,” Foster says of the musical, whose subject matter demanded a very original story. “There never was a story because [Betty Boop] is a two-minute-at-a-time cartoon. I knew I wanted to make a step toward Broadway and musicals, and honestly Betty Boop was the first person to ask me. [Laughs.] So we had to create the story. It’s currently waiting for the script’s final punch-up. And then hopefully we’ll jump into a reading and then a workshop.”

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Building Bridges: The iron is hot for fusing jazz and classical in RSMI's composition competition

It was in the spirit of the intense and aspirational goals of RSMI’s ambitious programs for jazz and classical musicians—as well as the bold musical vision of Leonard Bernstein, whom Ravinia has just gotten underway celebrating with an expansive multiyear tribute—that Bridges, an international jazz and classical fusion composition competition, was born. It offered an imaginative challenge for artists ages 17–30 (the same age range as the 60–70 performers invited to RSMI each year) to compose original works specifically for a string quartet and a jazz trio. “The Bridges competition was conceived to help give young professionals a place on the map—if not the world stage—which is precisely what RSMI has been granting singers and instrumentalists for the past three decades,” Kauffman said. The directors of the RSMI Program for Jazz had long dreamed of such a competition, having written many works combining jazz and classical music and players themselves.

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Robert Chen: The CSO Concertmaster Musters a solo concert

It's an oft-told tale. A little girl, attending her first live symphony concert, is enthralled by the imposing conductor waving a baton. She turns to her parents: “Mommy, Daddy, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” A little boy, hearing a flute or a clarinet or a violin or a tuba for the first time, is mesmerized. He clamors for an instrument of his own. Decades later, that little boy and girl have become internationally acclaimed musicians accepting the applause of audiences from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia.

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Tim Fain and Nicholas Britell Bring Wide(screen) sounds with "Once Upon a Score"

Even just a decade or two ago, classical musicians might look back occasionally to the Baroque era or try out a new work, but most stuck to Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert, and the genre’s other tried-and-true standard bearers. But today, many of the field’s younger generation of artists, who can access music from virtually any time or place in seconds on their iPhones, don’t feel nearly so confined. They might play a quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven one night and then join forces with an indie-rock band the next.

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Matthew Whitaker: Taking Jazz by Ear

Imagine for a moment that you’re a jazz pianist/organist. Also imagine that you’ve made a recording, a good part of which is your own material. And while you’re at it, imagine that said recording followed several major public appearances: Apollo Theater in Harlem, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, and even a segment on Ellen (she loved you so much that she gave you a vibraphone!). You also own a music publishing company and have toured abroad, performing in such far-flung places as France, Italy, Morocco, and Japan. Along the way you’ve picked up some major endorsement deals from Yamaha and Hammond.

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A Man For All Seasons: Frankie Valli Embraces the Moment to Keep his group on a high note

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons never had an autumn. They are of their time, and timeless.

With his early life and crooning career chronicled in the multiple Tony Award–winning and internationally successful stage musical, Jersey Boys—along with a movie version directed by Clint Eastwood—a five-decade catalogue of blockbuster hits, and even a sinister stint on TV’s The Sopranos, Frankie Valli is a well-deserving pop culture icon.

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Chad Hoopes: A Violinist Cooking Up Solo Concerts

Chad Hoopes was apportioned an arresting array of adjectives in a Washington Post review of the violinist’s Kennedy Center debut last year: “jaw-dropping,” “a little intoxicating,” “glowing,” “gripping,” “smiling-slash-snarly” (his performance of Ravel’s tempestuous Tzigane).

But it’s a verb in the first sentence that catches the eye: “The gifted young violinist Chad Hoopes has been rising—or maybe hurtling—toward international stardom since taking first prize in the junior division of the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2008.” 

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On the Surf(ace): Switchfoot Doesn't Bottle Up It's Message

At face value, Switchfoot is one of the most engaging and entertaining alternative rock acts to come out of Southern California in the last 20 years. But those who take a longer look at the Grammy Award–winning group will also find some of the most socially conscious, spiritually enlightening, and ultimately thought-provoking lyrics of their generation.

Of course, that’s yielded smash singles such as “Dare You to Move,” “Meant to Live,” and “Stars,” plus multiplatinum- or gold-selling modern day masterpieces such as The Beautiful Letdown, Nothing Is Sound, and Learning to Breathe. However, Switchfoot also built up a sizeable community of listeners who’ve been consistently challenged by the band members to make a difference in their corner of the globe. In fact, both the band and their fans did exactly that earlier this season at the 13th Annual Switchfoot BRO-AM, which merges a massive music festival and surf contest, with all the proceeds benefitting various children’s charities.

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I Love a Piano, Piano: The Naughtons' Four-Handed Sibling Revelry

“I think one of the cool things about four-hand piano,” says Christina Naughton, “is that it allows the deepest communication between the two players, because it may be the only form of chamber music where the players actually share the instrument.”

“It’s fun and it’s a different form of communication than chamber music,” chimes in Christina’s twin sister and piano duo partner, Michelle Naughton. “It’s really unique to its own self. It’s an art in itself. Family is a big part of that, too, and you can see that with Mozart’s and Mendelssohn’s music: they wrote stuff to be played with their siblings who were also fantastic musicians.” Not coincidentally, four-hand piano works by those two composers are central to the Naughton sisters’ Ravinia-debut performance on August 24.

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A Balance Paying Off: James Gaffigan finds an Island in Lucerne

The oft-quoted New Testament adage about prophets struggling for credibility in their own countries certainly seems to apply to American conductors. While some noted ones like James Levine and Marin Alsop have built their careers largely in the United States, others have had to make their marks in Europe before they could land a major post in their home country. Examples include David Zinman, who served as principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic prior to becoming music director of the Baltimore Symphony in 1985, and Alan Gilbert, who was principal conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in advance of taking over as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 2009.

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Rhymed Conversation: Ira Gershwin brought effortless composure to songwriting

In 1896, Morris Gershovitz and his wife, Rose, were living above a pawnshop on New York’s Lower East Side. In December of that year, the immigrant couple saw the birth of their first child, a son, whom they named Israel. In September of 1898, the Gershovitzes, now in Brooklyn, welcomed their second son, Jacob. Within a few weeks the family moved back to Manhattan, where they occupied a second-floor flat above a phonograph shop.

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The Soul in his Shoes: Leslie Odom Jr. Keeps his Feet in Happening Rooms


Leslie Odom Jr. is not the kind of guy to let grass grow under his feet. Even if he wanted to, the grass wouldn’t stand a chance, given the actor/singer/dancer extraordinaire’s fancy footwork. Though now firmly fused into American consciousness for his Tony and Grammy Award–winning portrayal of Aaron Burr in the Broadway megahit Hamilton, Odom has long been demonstrating his astonishing versatility not just on stage but on television with his appearances on CSI: Miami, Grey’s Anatomy, Person of Interest, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and particularly in the role of Sam Strickland in the 2013 musical series Smash. His many fans will shortly enjoy him on the big screen as well, in Kenneth Branagh’s soon-to-be-released film Murder on the Orient Express.
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Feeling Lucky Punk: Chris Carrabba is Happy to Wear his Emotive Music on his Sleeve


You can’t talk emo culture without certain bands immediately rolling off the tongue: Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, Death Cab for Cutie, Alkaline Trio, Rites of Spring—and, of course, Dashboard Confessional, whose lead singer, Chris Carrabba, became the unofficial poster boy for the genre, characterized by emotional, hardcore punk and “confessional” lyrics. When Carrabba sang “I’m reading your note over again / There’s not a word that I comprehend /Except when you signed it / ‘I will love you always and forever,’ ” a generation of music fans felt his guitar-driven angst.
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Don't Blink: Unintimidated, Lila Downs Casts Danger to the Wind


Lila Downs sings in many languages, but her listeners need only be fluent in the language of the heart to understand her.

You can hear it throughout her new release, Salón Lágrimas y Deseo (Room of Tears and Desire), just released at the end of May. “It’s also the most emotional album we’ve ever done,” Downs observes. “It’s not from the brain; it’s from the heart. And”—she adds with a modest chuckle—“from below.”

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Rewind: June 17, 1957

You can’t miss it. Nestled in the center of Ravinia and gazing upon the festival’s grand entrance is the Martin Theatre, the immaculate Arts and Crafts–style concert hall that has stood since the park first opened in 1904. But over Ravinia’s 113-year history, it hasn’t always been a stage for the premier chamber musicians—and even small orchestras—of the world. During the first decade of the park’s existence, it was largely used for motion pictures.

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Pixel Perfect: Become virtually part of the music in The Virtual Orchestra

In today’s high-tech world of digital sampling and music streaming, the symphony orchestra is a wonderful if curious anachronism, with many of its instruments and much of its repertoire dating back centuries. Even for regular attendees of symphony concerts, the alchemy of how 80 to 100 or more diverse musicians come together under a conductor to produce one coordinated body of sound remains something of a mystery.

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