For Your Consideration: Craig Hella Johnson plants a fencepost to welcome Matt Shepard

Several weeks ago, I was getting some work done while on a flight from Orlando back to Chicago. Part of my agenda was to digest the libretto of Craig Hella Johnson’s poignant oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard. I already owned the Grammy-nominated recording on Harmonia Mundi and had been profoundly moved by it, but this was the first time I had actually read the entire text itself. I was, quite frankly, undone. The plane vanished from my cognizance, along with the din from the overwrought Disney vacation families that dotted the cabin. I sat there with tears streaming down my face. I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see a startled flight attendant named Tammy. Her eyes softened as she said, “Here’s your Diet Coke, hon.”

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Harmony in Motion: Peter Sellars and Grant Gershon get closer to Him through The Tears of Saint Peter

Harmony in Motion: Peter Sellars and Grant Gershon get closer to Him through The Tears of Saint Peter

“John was looking for a texture for The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” explains Sellars, “and he was going through medieval music and Renaissance music kind of like Igor Stravinsky, looking for music where there’s a very detailed and elaborate harmonic language. John came across Lasso and became so excited. He told both Grant and me to look at Orlando de Lasso.”

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J’Nai Bridges: A mezzo connecting with the moment

Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, who will be the soloist in Leonard Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” Symphony at Ravinia on Sunday, August 19, “discovered” her exceptional voice when, in her senior year, she auditioned for the high school choir near her home in Lakewood, WA. When the choir director heard her, Bridges was immediately urged to begin studying professionally.

“My family enjoyed music, all kinds,” Bridges explained during a telephone interview with Ravinia Magazine in late June. “My Dad has a beautiful voice, and he sang with the Sons of Thunder choir at the Allen A.M.E. Church in Tacoma. I began taking piano lessons when I was 5, but no one [in the family] was a professional.” The new adventure of voice lessons became a revelation. “I just loved singing so much,” she said. Even though Bridges was captain of her high school basketball team and had college sports scholarships on the horizon, she audaciously auditioned at top American conservatories and music schools.

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Intense, Beautiful, Devoted: Classical music has long felt the Bern(stein) to speak in political tones

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.”

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Moving Pictures: Inside Considering Matthew Shepard

In the summer of 2016, I was surprised by a phone call from Rod Caspers, a dear friend from our days together at the University of Texas–Austin Drama Department. He asked if I would be interested in directing a new choral musical work, an oratorio, Considering Matthew Shepard, slated for broadcast on PBS and a subsequent live tour. Rod knew I’d been producing and directing large-scale symphony concerts and other stage works around the country for almost 15 years, and he thought I might be right for this assignment. I accepted on the spot, grateful to be invited to play a role in keeping Matthew’s story alive. His haunting life story had previously been told on stage and screen in The Laramie Project, but as I came to discover, for many, Matthew’s story had started to fade into history.

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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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Maestro Dudamel Visits Sistema Ravinia

Students of Sistema Ravinia were in the presence of greatness on Wednesday as Gustavo Dudamel, who had his musical beginnings in El Sistema in Venezuela and inspired a character on Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, watched their performance. Maestro Dudamel then hopped onstage to conduct the young musicians and impart some wisdom for their artistic journey ahead.

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Critical Mass: As Leonard Bernstein’s largesse reenters the canon, its messages are a clarion call

When Leonard Bernstein’s Mass was christened at the much-anticipated 1971 opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the 1¾-hour work faced a negative onslaught from critics. Typical were Harold Schonberg’s dismissive comments in the New York Times: “It is a pseudo-serious effort at rethinking the Mass that basically is, I think, cheap and vulgar. It is a show-biz Mass, the work of a musician who desperately wants to be with it.”

But in the nearly five decades since the piece’s premiere, the classical music world has become much more accustomed to the kind of stylistic cross-pollination that runs through Mass, and views have significantly changed about Bernstein the composer. Since his death in 1990, many of his works that had been downplayed or set aside have found renewed attention and respect. Indeed, virtually everything he wrote is being heard this year among hundreds (if not thousands) of concerts worldwide celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth.

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Simon Trpčeski: Taking hold of his music’s roots

The Republic of Macedonia is among the smaller nations of Europe, so it’s not surprising that few of its musicians have reached the highest ranks in the classical music firmament. Described by The Guardian as “wondrously talented,” pianist Simon Trpčeski is the most notable exception, and Chicago audiences have been fortunate to hear his consummate artistry many times over the past decade.

In 2008, the pianist made his made his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut in Orchestra Hall with conductor Ludovic Morlot performing the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1, an event he recalls with great fondness. “The CSO is one of the top orchestras in the world, and its clear, transparent, and powerful sound is a motivation for every artist. We played four concerts, and it was amazing to constantly experience the high professionalism of the musicians as well as the wonderful reaction of the audience.”

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Lights, Camera-derie: John Williams and Steven Spielberg are Avatars of Simpatico in Action

The theme to Raiders ranks as one of Williams’s most iconic works. Spielberg credits its success to the composer’s sense of timing and restraint. “He sparingly uses it,” Spielberg elaborated. “When he uses it, it allows us to root for the hero. When he doesn’t use it, we are worried about our hero. He’s so wise as to when to release the main theme.”

When creating his movie music magic, Williams eschews computers. He uses pencils, paper, and a piano. Sometimes, Spielberg quietly pays a visit to the composer and hints for a status report. “If I feel like I’ve got something for him, I’ll play a few notes,” Williams said. “I can always tell by his eyes, his facial expression, his voice, if he’s unsure, if he dislikes it, or likes it. The great thing is that he always leaves happy.”

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Congrats to Christine Taylor Conda!

Christine Taylor Conda, Director of the Reach*Teach*Play music education programs at Ravinia, has been named Chair of the El Sistema USA board of directors for a one-year term. The mission of El Sistema USA is to support and grow a nationwide movement of programs inspired by El Sistema—the immersive music education process originally developed in Venezuela that puts instruments into the hands of children to begin playing in orchestras immediately—to effect social change through music for children with the fewest resources and the greatest need. Taylor Conda has been a member of El Sistema USA’s board for two years.

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Ravinia Makes A Difference

Ravinia President & CEO Welz Kauffman dropped by the NBC5 Chicago studios to discuss with Kye Martin the importance of the festival’s Reach*Teach*Play education programs to the development of young students. Over 85,000 community members are served through Ravinia’s RTP Programs each year, ensuring that music education remains accessible to all. The programs are designed to educate, foster diverse audience involvement, and provide the population with equitable access to live music experiences in their communities and at Ravinia.

Ravinia Receives Grants

We are pleased to announce that the Highland Park Public Library has received a major grant from the Illinois State Library for “Ravinia: Music Under the Stars Around the World,” a collaboration with the Ravinia Festival Association to digitize significant items from both the festival’s and the library’s collections documenting Ravinia’s history. The grant of more than $80,000, awarded by Jesse White, Secretary of State and State Librarian, will be used to create a virtual Ravinia collection available to the public on the Illinois Digital Archive, greatly expanding access to the history of the country’s oldest outdoor music festival.

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Chicago LGBT Honors Tchaikovsky

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.

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Stay Safe In The Heat

With the recent soaring temperatures, we want you to remain safe while enjoying the nature of our outdoor venue. On sweltering days, Ravinia provides a cooling station in the Santa Fe Tent where lawn guests can relax. Patrons are also encouraged to escape the heat in our climate-controlled Lawn Bar. Learn more about heat safety here.

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to rehydrate.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks. These can lead to dehydration and increase the effects of heat illness.
  • Wear sunscreen. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool down and can make you dehydrated.

NYT Gives Ravinia Artists Rave Reviews

Two of Ravinia’s coming artists were given smashing notices in the New York Times last week. Performing on July 28 in the Street Chorus for Mass is Mykal Kilgore, who was hailed “a knockout performance” in Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World at New York City Center. Kilgore was last seen in the Windy City as Simon in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyric Opera. His other theater credits include Motown: the Musical and Hair on Broadway, as well as the first national tour of The Book of Mormon. He has also appeared on screen with roles in NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar and The Wiz Live and the film Collateral Beauty.
In a review of Tony Award nominee Melissa Errico’s most recent role as Daisy Gamble in On a Clear Daythe paper gushed, “Any chance to hear Errico sing is a chance worth taking.” You have two opportunities to take that chance on September 8, when Errico appears in Ravinia’s most intimate hall in back-to-back performances on the $10 BGH Classics series. Other Broadway luminaries that have performed on the annual series include Jonathan Groff (HamiltonFrozen) and Laura Benanti (Meteor ShowerThe Good WifeNashville). You may never have the chance to see a rising Broadway star this affordably ever again!

11 Facts About SGT. Pepper

Half a century ago years ago, four mop-topped lads from Liverpool released one of the greatest records of all time. Stuffed with classics, from the dreamy psychedelia of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” to the pioneering production of “A Day In The Life,” Sgt. Pepper broke boundaries at every turn. Click here to read 11 facts about the album you have never heard before—you won’t be able to contain your giggles at number five! Sing along to the songs of the The Beatles when Classic Albums Live plays the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album note for note, cut for cut this Saturday night.

30 Under 30 Classical Musicians

Ahead of last week’s Classical BRIT Awards, broadcaster Classic FM published a list of 30 classical artists under age 30 across the instrumental spectrum that have been captivating concert stages, including two of the big winners that night, saxophonist Jess Gillam and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who also made headlines last month with his performance at the royal wedding.

The list contained a few more familiar names: accordionist Ksenija Sidorova, who returns to Ravinia on July 3 in the Martin Theatre after a pair of sellout BGH concerts last summer, and violinist Ray Chen, who makes his own return in the Martin on July 25 following plaudits from his CSO debut at the festival last summer. (“Chen takes a back seat to no fiddler when it comes to lofting long lyrical lines … his fast vibrato lending expressive intensity to the phrasing,” said the Chicago Tribune.)

Also featured were pianists Lucas Debargue, who brought a pair of signature programs to his Chicago debut in BGH in 2016, and Benjamin Grosvenor and Daniil Trifonov, who electrified their Chicago debuts on the same stage in 2013 and 2012 respectively.

The Beatles Have Been In Chicago For Years

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.