There was a stunning moment in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Celebrating 100 Years of Bernstein” gala this season. Kate Baldwin, on a brief hiatus from her Tony Award–nominated run in Broadway’s revival of Hello Dolly!, took the stage and delivered an ineffably moving rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s Vietnam-era protest song “So Pretty.” This affecting piece, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, was first heard in 1968 at the Broadway for Peace fundraiser co-hosted by Bernstein and Paul Newman. It was performed then by Barbra Streisand with the composer himself at the piano. The song tells of a land far away with golden temples and pretty people with shining hair—who we are told “must die for peace.” The text concludes with “But they’re so pretty, so pretty. / I don’t understand.”
One of the immortal composers of classical music, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, will join the ranks of such LGBT icons as Alan Turing and Sylvia Rivera with a biographical memorial in Chicago’s award-winning outdoor LGBT History Museum “The Legacy Walk.” Sponsored by Ravinia Festival, Ravinia Board Chairman Jennifer Steans, Illinois State Senator Heather Steans (7th District Democrat), and Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman and husband Jon Teeuwissen, the Tchaikovsky exhibit will be unveiled at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, on the Legacy Walk, which spans 3245–3705 Halsted St., Chicago. Award-winning jazz pianist-composer-accordionist Ben Rosenblum will give a street performance at the dedication and will make his Ravinia debut later that night. A “Dedication Celebration” will follow the installation at Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted St., Chicago.
As a touring band, The Beatles visited Chicago three times in the 1960s to play at two South Side venues that no longer exist: the International Amphitheatre (1964 and 1966) and Comiskey Park (1965). But in a way, the Fab Four have been in the Chicago area for decades. That’s because John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s personal handiwork is residing at Northwestern University’s music library in Evanston. The library refers to the collection as the Beatles Manuscripts—they comprise handwritten lyric sheets for seven songs The Beatles released in 1965 and 1966.
Specifically, the library holds the original lyric sheets for six songs from the 1966 album Revolver: “Eleanor Rigby,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “For No One,” as well as the lyrics for “The Word” from 1965’s Rubber Soul. Go behind the glass with Chicago Tonight for a rare look at the historic manuscripts, and experience the music of The Beatles’ groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band live when it is performed note for note, cut for cut by Classic Albums Live on July 7.
Ravinia favorite John Legend wowed audiences in NBC’s Easter-night, live concert production of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Ravinia famously presented the groundbreaking musical on August 6 and 7, 1971, (read the Chicago Tribune story) to what were then record-breaking audiences. One fan remembers the event.
In 2005 and again in 2016, Ravinia audiences were treated to a screening of possibly the most beloved movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz, with the musical score performed live. But as old as that screen classic is—the film was released in 1939—it was not the earliest film adaptation of one of the 13 Oz novels that Lyman Frank Baum would eventually write. The earliest attempt was part of a project the author himself oversaw 31 years before Judy Garland sailed over the rainbow—and it was seen at Ravinia over a century ago.
One thing that all fans of classical music might agree on is that little is as thrilling as hearing a youthful musician playing to a standard of technique and artistic mastery more commonly associated with a player two or three times her age. There may be an element of democracy in the perception of talent, but when it came to a barely teen-aged Midori, the public opinion was beyond clear. With one of her earliest performances in the United States being with the New York Philharmonic at its New Year’s Eye gala at the age of 11, reputation already preceded the violinist taking the Tanglewood stage for Leonard Bernstein’s annual Serge and Olga Koussevitzky Memorial Concert with the Boston Symphony in 1986.
It’s a no-brainer to say that music is Ravinia’s passion. And yet, until 15 years ago the only musical Passion that had been heard at the festival was J.S. Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion—granted, it is the most popular setting of the narrative in classical music today. (Before James Levine led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a pair of performances of Bach’s masterpiece in 1978 and 1980, Ravinia had presented back-to-back performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971, but its loose interpretation of Biblical accounts makes its categorization as a Passion narrative questionable.)
Before Ravinia emerged from the Great Depression in 1936 to begin hosting the incomparable performance residency of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it was for about a decade and a half known as the “summer opera capital of the world,” presenting many of the Metropolitan Opera’s foremost stars in selected scenes or acts of that venerable form of music theater. The performances were often so abridged so as to accommodate the schedule of the trains that were the primary means of travel to Ravinia (indeed, it was originally founded in 1904 as a general amusement park along the train line). However, not all operas are multi-hour, multi-act epics.
Though the terms “virtuoso” and “prodigy” are most often applied to classical musicians, mandolinist Chris Thile, fiddler Sara Watkins, and guitarist Sean Watkins easily fit the bill when they formed the band Nickel Creek in the late 1980s, before any of them were yet in their teens. The trio earned widespread attention with their third album, Nickel Creek, which was produced by Alison Krauss, herself considered a virtuoso of the fiddle.
Now in its ninth consecutive decade, the musical partnership between Ravinia and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra continues to be a uniquely fulfilling one, with the six-week summer residency of the orchestra regularly featuring about as many programs as might be heard downtown over the rest of the year.
I grabbed the ad and flew to the mezzanine level of the house, where technicians and grips were arranging lights and cables. When I approached one and asked, “Do you think I could get Miss Hepburn to autograph this for me?” the grip answered, “Why not ask her yourself? She’s right over there.” I hadn’t even noticed her diminutive figure sitting on the stairs studying her script, and although I didn’t want to cause any disruption in the production, I hurriedly went over and blurted out, “Miss Hepburn, I’m a huge fan of yours and have had this photo in my office for years. Would you please sign it ‘To John’?”
A significant debate in the performance of classical music that originated in the mid-20th century was whether or not to play Baroque-era music on 18th-century instruments or on their modern-day counterparts.
At a time when conflict with Russia weighed heavily on many minds—no, not today; during the mid-20th century—there was one thing that the then-Communist nation and the United States could agree upon: Van Cliburn was a great musician. In 1958, as the Cold War was escalating, Moscow inaugurated what is still today one of the most closely watched events in classical music, the International Tchaikovsky Competition.
If a beauty pageant was held for the orchestral works of the Baroque period, odds are the hands-down winner would be Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, the set of four violin concertos that the Cleveland-based Baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire will perform in the Martin Theatre on July 27, replete with the period flavor of their 1725 publishing. Probably the only works that might come close in a popular vote would be Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos and Handel’s Water Music, but Vivaldi’s Four Seasons have entered the collective consciousness as few musical works ever have.
From semistaged operas and musicals to plays and other performances of spoken word, top stagecraft has long been a part of Ravinia’s DNA, but even longtime fans of the festival might be surprised to learn that during a three-year period in the late 1970s, you could enjoy violins at 8 and violent laughter at 11.
As America had Robert Shaw, so Britain had Malcolm Sargent. Both dubbed the “deans of choral music” of their respective nations, both also had uncanny command of music that did not feature the voice. And just as Shaw became a household name for his Christmas albums, so too did Sargent become a well-loved public figure through his many appearances on BBC radio and as chief conductor of the Proms for 20 years.
You always remember your first. As the curtain rose on 1955, the Metropolitan Opera presented its first African-American cast members: contralto Marian Anderson as Ulrica in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera and, three weeks later, baritone Robert McFerrin as Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida. McFerrin was subsequently specially chosen by composer/conductor Virgil Thomson to breathe life into his Five Songs from William Blake—both the singer’s Ravinia and Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts—on a program of Thomson’s works at Ravinia on July 5, 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.