Several concerts on the just-concluded 2017 Ravinia season were devoted to the music of John Adams in celebration of the American composer laureate’s 70th birthday year. But there is another Adams in town, John’s son Samuel Adams, who is beginning his third and final season as composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Along with co-composer-in-residence Elizabeth Ogonek, Adams is also co-curator of the CSO’s MusicNOW series, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When you think of Ravinia in Highland Park, the first thing you probably think of is music. You may not, however, immediately think of food. But, you should. You really, really should. Ravinia Festival is the ideal Chicago-area dinner and show spot.
Chicago Foodie Sisters was recently invited to get a taste of what they have to offer at a food blogger dinner hosted for #Foodiechats at the Park View Restaurant on the grounds of Ravinia. It's one of several areas on the property where you can dine to enhance your evening. If you thought that a summer concert meant you were limited to overpriced nachos and hot dogs that you grab at a stand after waiting in an insanely long line, you couldn't be more wrong.
There are several dining options at Ravinia Festival that range from pre-ordered picnic boxes to quick, but quality take-away sandwiches and salads to leisurely indoor or al fresco dining of seafood, prime rib and more with wines from around the globe. It's the best place to enjoy live music if you're both a concertgoer and a foodie.
What could make 10 hours of elves, dwarves, hobbits, and orcs even better? A live symphony orchestra, of course.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform the soundtrack to all three films in the Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy on consecutive evenings August 18–20 at Ravinia, with the movies projected on screens in the Pavilion and on the lawn. The CSO had performed the individual films at Ravinia in previous years, but seeing the entire trilogy over three evenings will be a new experience in the Midwest.
A hundred young people between the ages of 12 and 17, representing the diversity and inclusivity that we long to see in classical music, performed together in a festival orchestra at the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Walt Disney Hall on Saturday, July 22. The orchestra comprised students from El Sistema–inspired programs around the country who were selected by audition, including one of Ravinia’s own—13-year-old Michael Robinson! The French horn player’s only access to music education has been through the Sistema Ravinia program at Catalyst Circle Rock School on Chicago’s West Side.