In October, distinguished local historian and author Art Miller gave a lecture on the history of Ravinia Festival and surrounding areas. He spoke on the beginnings of the festival, the people and culture of the area and the architecture of the park buildings.
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.
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,
“It is no revelation,” Goldstein reminds us, “to say that these Mozart concertos are miniature operas. So in the concert we are telling a dramatic story about an infinite array of characters; we are going to have the maid, we are to have the Count, we are going to have the gardener—all these characters coming to life. And it is nicer to speak to them close!”
Frederica von Stade has enjoyed a unique, lengthy, wide-ranging career that has brought her fame and, one hopes, fortune. She has always been a favorite with international aficionados who appreciate style, quality, sensitivity, and versatility. Even admirers who do not happen to know her personally flash her nickname, “Flicka.”
She is, of course, an extraordinary opera star, first and foremost. That occupation, however, has never been a full-time obsession.
Confessions of a Former Music Snob
I saw a TV show featuring the top 10 country videos at the time and was struck by “Here in the Real World” by Alan Jackson. Unlike other country artists, he didn’t make a great display of being a caricature of a boisterous, s**t-kicking redneck bumpkin. In the context of many other country artists, he stood out as practically aristocratic, a true country gentleman, even if he wrote songs with titles like “Blue Blooded Woman (and a Redneck Man).” There was a genuine sincerity to everything he sang that was irresistible.
“I had the ominous feeling that this would be the last time dad would perform in Chicago,” Nancy Sinatra wrote later on. “And I believe he had the same feeling.”
And best of all, the series offers music lovers the chance to hear “an impressive lineup, by any standard,” (Chicago Tribune) of world-stage stars at a fraction of the ticket price commanded elsewhere.
The list of renowned musicians with whom Browne has collaborated in some form could fill a whole page. His early brushes with Nico, Buckley, Frey, and Crosby were just the beginning; in the years to come, he toured with such icons as Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell, and he made music with everyone from Warren Zevon to Bonnie Raitt to Bruce Springsteen. So it’s hard not to wonder, from such an embarrassment of riches, do any of those collaborations stand out for him as favorites?
The story is told quite viscerally through music: a ship dripping dread appears suddenly in the darkness, ahead of a storm that portends death. Such was the setting of the final weekend of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2015 summer residency at Ravinia. Ah, yes, The Flying Dutchman. Or, wait, was it Star Trek?
I fear that for many Baby Boomers, our unfortunate introduction to Cuban music while growing up was seeing Desi Arnaz singing "Babalu" on the classic I Love Lucy sitcom.
Remember those snap bracelets and day-glo everything? Remember when MTV used to actually show music videos? Those days before everyone was on this new thing called the Internet and AOL CDs overflowed your inbox … your actual mailbox?
You can relive those days with our special ’90s-themed mixtape, which showcases artists from two of our hottest concerts of 2015.