Congratulations to our Women’s Board on a Great Gershwin Gala

Congratulations to our Women's Board at Ravinia Festival for creating a truly remarkable gala benefit last night, raising over a million dollars to support the nonprofit festival and our mission of bringing music back to budget-strapped schools. Hope you were there to hear the unparalleled Chicago Symphony Orchestra recreate George Gershwin's only Ravinia appearance (1936).

The evening began with a cocktail party that gave everyone a chance to socialize in their red-carpet finery. The party then moved to the real main course of the evening, the CSO concert that featured soloists Sylvia McNair, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Kelli O’Hara singing the great Gershwin songs like “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” The Orchestra opened the evening with the Cuban Overture and returned for what Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun-Times called “a giddy, exuberant, razor-sharp rendering of An American in Paris.” The concert ended with Kevin Cole, who plays Gershwin like no one else, performing “Rhapsody in Blue.” It was that piece that had audiences clambering into the trees to get a glimpse of the great Gershwin when he played the piece himself here in 1936. David Alan Miller proved a popular last-minute replacement on the podium for James Conlon, who was ill.

With over 800 guests in attendance, I had the great good fortune at the black-tie dinner of sitting between Col. James Pritzker and Broadway sensation (and star of the evening) Kelli O’Hara, who is even more ravishing up close. Dinner, with each course themed to the music on the program (for example, Rhapsody in Blueberries) was catered by Food for Thought. The gala Marquee was decorated by Event Creative and featured elegant gold draping and towering centerpieces of green hydrangeas and yellow calla lilies.

The 2011 Gala Benefit Evening was overseen by the Women’s Board committee headed by Gala Co-chairmen Gail Hodges and Susan Schmitt. Sarah Barden, Jean Berghoff and Annette Dezelan served as the Gala Benefactor co-chairmen. Jeanne Denison is the Women’s Board chairman. Kelly Grier, Rick Lenny and Mike Murray served as the Trustee Benefactor co-chairmen.

The annual gala is the only performance fund-raiser thrown for the not-for-profit festival, but is just one of the myriad activities, including the oversight of Ravinia Gifts, that make the Women’s Board such solid contributors to the social fabric and the bottom line of Ravinia. The group of dedicated and very active volunteers began in 1962 and will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. Over that time, they have given more money in support of the festival and its educational mission that any other person or group.

A point of pride for the Women’s Board and everyone at the festival is that they founded our educational programs and continue to be active in our REACH*TEACH*PLAY efforts today. Last year, they started two elementary school orchestras at Hibbard Elementary School—based on the el sistema method of instant immersion in music—and they have plans to start a third orchestra at a different school soon.

On behalf of Ravinia, I want to thank the Women’s Board and its gala committees, all of our event sponsors and the brilliant artists who contributed to a perfect evening. Even the weather respected Gershwin. And the living was easy.

--Nick Pullia
Director of Communications