Tchaikovsky, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Itzhak Perlman brought friends and families out to Ravinia Festival Sunday. After storming in the morning, the weather was cooperating for Ravinia’s annual “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” in early evening.
Blanket carrying, luggage-rolling, chair-toting, concert goers kept pouring through the park’s gates even past the early 5 p.m. program start.
Each year, the popular concert fills the lawn with music lovers who know that the final notes of the “1812 Overture” are also an appropriate cannon send-off to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra that is at Orchestra Hall downtown during the winter but plays at Ravinia in Highland Park in summer.
Heads, nodded and even feet seemed to join in from the blankets and chairs behind the Pavilion and across the lawn as Perlman expertly conducted Tchaikovsky’s familiar Symphony No. 4.
After intermission, the 2017 Credit Swisse Young Artist Award winner, cellist Kian Soltani, a Deutsche Grammophon recording artist, wowed listeners with his deft handling of “Variations on a rococo theme for cello and orchestra and its virtuosic coda.
For the “1812” some lawn sitters with youngsters on shoulders, strolled over to the space on the northeast side of the Pavilion to watch the cannon shots.
Ravinia Festival was living up to its name. A festival mood had spread across the park as youngsters skipped around blankets and many picnickers, reluctant to leave on this balmy concert night, continued sipping, eating and chatting.
They had come well-supplied with wine bottles, dishes to share and other stuff.
Although this was the first time Sidney Burks and Julie Haase from Southern Missouri had been to Ravinia, they were visiting Julie’s folks, Patsy and Roger Haase, regular Ravinia goers from Arlington Heights. What was important to bring?
“A light,” said Patsy, pointing to a very attractive decorated glass container sitting by their table that would be good for concerts continuing after dark. “This way we can find our way back to our table,” she said.
Dan and Donna Berman who lived a lot closer in Deerfield, had already seen several concerts and had more planned on their calendar including the Michael Feinstein program.
“I love Ravinia,” said Dan. “I love music.” He added. “Not necessarily in that order.”
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conductor Rafael Payare and pianist Emanuel Ax gave bravo performances at Ravinia Festival Aug. 2, 2019.
Payare, a Venezuelan conductor who has led ensembles and orchestras across the globe and will lead the San Diego Symphony as its new music director this fall, infused Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 with extra exuberance and sensitivity to its Napoleonic themes.
Although the themes are familiar to classical musical lovers, Eroica in less able hands has sometimes come across as too predictable and automatically played. But when Payare opened the symphony by (I think appropriately) upping the pace on the Allegro con brio, there was a new feeling of excitement stretching across the Pavilion and lawn.
It was in perfect contrast to what became the very expressive Marcia funebre movement in C minor followed by the CSO strings’ nimble and delightful Scherzo that went back to the symphony’s key of E-flat major.
During the symphony, the cameras for ravinia’s screens’ focused on the orchestra’s exceptional oboist, flutist and French horns.
They deserved the extra acknowledgement accorded them by Payare after the heroic symphony’s exuberant final notes drew enthusiastic applause.
This interpretation of Beethoven’s epic, groundbreaking symphony was among the best I’ve heard.
It would take another epic performance to complement the first half the program.
And that is what Ax delivered with his extraordinary Brahm’s Concerto No. 2 in B –flat major.
Back at Ravinia for his 28th appearance since 1975, the 70-year-old Ax still has the powerful hands, agile fingers and emotion variations that won the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv in the 1974 and the Avery Fisher Prize in New York City in 1979.
Among the finest pianists of our time, Ax appeared to be having a love affair with the piano (or with Brahms) on Friday.
From hands crossing to land powerful chords and fingers flying across the keys to their producing lyrical waterfalls and gentle caresses, Ax married technique with sensitivity.
What audiences may not recall is that Brahms pays homage in Piano Concerto No. 2 to another instrument he likes to write for, the cello. In notes on the work, Brahms calls the section of the Andante that features a cello solo, a “concerto within a concerto.”
Ax is familiar with Brahms piano cello pairings. As a frequent partner with cellist Yo Yo Ma, the duo has won several Grammy Awards for their Brahms recordings.
As the strains of the last notes of Brahms second piano concerto echoed through the Pavilion, the audience rose, almost as one body, applauding loudly and long.
The double bill of bravo performances made Friday at Ravinia a night to remember.
(Friday was the second night to feature Beethoven symphonies and Brahms concertos. Thursday’s concert was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor followed by pianist Yefim Bronfman playing Brahms’ Concerto No. 1 in D minor.)
Celebrate summer while it’s here. This weekend, art booths fill downtown Glencoe and Renee Fleming is doing Stoppard’s “Penelope” at Ravinia. Next week the Oriental Institute in Hyde Park has Hieroglyphics for kids and the Edgewater neighborhood celebrates summer with food,beverages and music
What: Festival of Art
When: July 27-28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
Where: Center point is 700 Vernon Ave. near Park Avenue west of Green Bay Road in north suburban Glencoe.
Think “The Music Man.” Then add such shows as “Come From Away,” “Frozen” and “Hamilton.” But as the guy on TV says, “Wait, there’s more.” Add in opera star Maria Callas to make three spectacular evenings – one in July, another in August and the third one in early September.
“The Music Man”
Goodman Theatre and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has a double bill of a short performance by “The Music Man” cast members followed by a screening of the movie featuring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.
When: July 23, 6:30 p.m. remarks, 6:34 p.m. performance and 6:45 p.m. film.
Where: The Jay Pritzker Pavilion and The Great Lawn at Millennium Park at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue.
Broadway In Chicago Summer Concert (Coming shows peek)
Co-sponsored by DCASE and ABC 7, several shows from Broadway In Chicago’s 2019-2020 season will be live in concert including “The Phantom of the Opera, The Band’s visit, Summer: the Donna summer Musical, “Once on this Island, “My Fair Lady”, “Mean Girls,” Hamilton” Fronzen, “Dear Evan Hansen and “Come from Away.”
When: Aug. 12 at 6:15 p.m
Where: Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park at 201 E. randolphg st.
Some of Callas’ greatest performances have been digitally re-mastered using state-of-the-art 3D hologram technology by Base Hologram Productions. They will be backed by the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Elmear Noone.
When: Sept 7, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive.
Co-presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago and Live Nation.
What: To celebrate the revival of “The Music Man” that starts Saturday in its Albert Theatre, Goodman Theatre will hold a parade of more than 76 Chicago area trombonists and percussionists performing the show’s famed tune.
When: Friday, June 28 beginning at 1 p.m.
Where: The parade tarts at Goodman theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, then continues to Daley Plaza (50 N. Washington St., then returns to Goodman about 1:15 to do an encore .
Who: The parade is in partnership with Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles that includes LGBTQ members and friends.
What: A dog-friendly brunch where they can play and get treats while their people show down.
Where: The Patio that is the rear end of the historic Brauer building in Lincoln Park Zoo at 2021 N. Stockton Dr.
When: June 30 from 9 to 11 a.m. Reservations needed. Call (312) 507-9053
Who: The Patio at Cafe Brauer at the back of a Prairie School-style landmark is a popular summer cocktail and lunch stop that overlooks the pond at the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo and its view of the Chicago skyline. Bentley’s Pets will have gift bags for the dogs.
As anyone who attended Music Theater Works’ Frank Loesser’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” recently learned, company co-founder and general manager Bridget McDonough and artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller announced they are making this 39th season their last one at the rudder.
They also introduced producing artistic director designate Kyle Dougan who will step into a new position that combines their two job descriptions so that audiences know Music Theater Works will continue when they step down.
However, Yo Yo Ma continues presentation in Chicago on June 21 as part of his Day of Action.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. he will be at The Greening in North Lawndale at 19th Street and Kostner Avenue, then will be in conversations and have open mic artists from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at the National Museum of Mexican Art , 1853 W. 19th Street.
He ends in the evening with Make Music Chicago. 5 p.m. at the Riverwalk between Franklin and Lake Streets where he joins local musicians, including members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and Little Kids Rock. Visit makemusicchicago.org
There is so much to like about “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” by Laura Eason at the Raven Theatre in Edgewater. It’s a snapshot of one of the many evolutionary changes that is inevitable in a growing and vibrant city.
Set in the fall of 1992 Hank (Jeff Mills), the owner of a Chicago dive bar, slash, live music venue, is in the autumn of his career in the midst of evolving musical tastes and gentrification that threaten everything he has built.
Hank has two great loves – live music and his twenty-one year old daughter Lena (Lindsay Stock) who grew up above the club and shares her dad’s enthusiasm for music.
Lena is anxious to expand her horizons to include the emerging style of “house,” a genre of electronic dance music of the era created in Chicago that features D.J.’s as the curators of the musical experience.
Her dad is a traditionalist who feels that D.J.’s are not musicians and that electronic music is in opposition to the live music he has championed for twenty-five years.
Thus the conflict is established,. It plays out in the confines of a neighborhood tavern that, like its owner, is definitely showing its wear.
The set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec and decorated by Lacie Hexom is reminiscent of the many neighborhood watering holes that once dotted the Chicago map from north to south in this working class city.
In the earlier half of the 20th century Chicago boasted 10,000 “shot and a beer” joints. Most have closed or been converted to fern bars and pubs. Those that survived like Hank’s are loved-to-death by countless elbows, decorated through neglect and illuminated with the ever present twinkling strand or two of Christmas lights.
These establishments retain and reflect a bit of each of the individuals and groups that made this particular venue their social hub, and Hank’s clientele have indeed left their unique mark on this location.
But neighborhoods, music, and people change; and we are all forced to face the changes that are an inevitable part of growing up and growing older. What is undeniable is the here-and-now and the sounds it makes.
Hank has little patience for nostalgia and no stomach for being viewed as a legend. The question is how do you confront the end of an era?
The story involves non-traditional family relationships and various forms of love which in this case includes Hank’s longtime, off-again on-again, salt-of-the-earth girlfriend, Bette (Dana Black), who accepted the role of surrogate mother in the absence of Lena’s birth mother
It is clear the two women have a true affection for each other which was all the more poignant on the Mother’s Day performance I attended.
Stock is spot on and perfectly embodies the role of Lena who is smart, savvy and charismatic. It is no wonder that she is adored by her “parents” as well as the club manager, Toby (Christopher Acevedo), the landlord’s son Joey (Casey Morris), and Nash (Henry Greenberg) the up-and-coming D.J. each vying in one way or another for her attention.
No doubt casting director Kanome Jones made Director BJ Jones’ life a little easier by providing an outstanding ensemble.
Eason has done a terrific job of juggling a number of ideas yet pulling it all together into one well-crafted unified whole. She understands Hank’s reluctance to turn over the reins and sympathetically advocates for the youthful exuberance of Nash and Lena.
Meanwhile the supporting roles of Bette, Toby, and Joey are fully fleshed characters with their own important contributions to the plot. Her dialogue is authentic and at times emotional without becoming saccharine.
When I don’t know much about a play I try to keep it that way until I see it. This was surprisingly different than what I expected, thinking it was going to be more of a jukebox musical.
It does have some recorded music as background as well as a few short riffs and verses admirably played on guitar by Mills – choices of sound designer Lindsay Jones. Music is integral to the story but it is not a musical.
If you are afraid that the indie music rock scene is not a genre you understand or enjoy do not let this dissuade you. The theme of the story is universal and the musical references are incidental. This can be any time period and any inter-generational conflict.
I predict this production will be deemed Jeff worthy with special recognition of Lindsay Stock and maybe BJ Jones and Kmiec as well.
Don’t miss this one. If you have experience with an aging business owner, a music maker, or someone affected by change that they feared or were reluctant to face this will likely resonate with you.
DETAILS: “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” is at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago through June 16, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information call (773) 338-2177 and visit raventheatre.com.
If you see “Sentimental Journey: A Musical Tale of Love and War” at Citadel Theatre, you may want to ask you parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles about their lives during WWII or Vietnam.
The show is actor Ross “Robbie” Lehman’s ode to his parents, Katey and Ross Lehman.
By telling their story through such 1940’s songs as “I May Be Wrong (But I Think You’re Wonderful),” “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,” “Sentimental Journey” and “We’ll Meet Again” with some Irish roots thrown in with “Molly Malone” and “Danny ‘Boy,” and by reading their letters in the voice of the writer, you learn about their meeting, dating and enduring the uncertainties and traumatic emotional and physical toll of war.
Lehman, whom theater goers know from seeing him at Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf and Goodman, easily adopts the voices and mannerisms of Katey, a writer with a cigarette in one hand and a drink nearby, and Ross, a pipe (later cigar) smoker who loved to sing and was often chosen as an event’s emcee.
The first act, about 55 minutes, is filled with charming stories..The second act of about 35 minutes, turns emotional as you learn about his father’s horrific war experiences.
He takes his father’s bomber jacket out of its frame on the set to show the holes made by German flak and in a video close-up you see the medals, including the Purple Heart, that are also framed.
The frames are on a wall that even with a video screen on one side showing parents, family members and bombers, gives the set created by Timoth Mann, an intimate feeling. To one side is the piano played for some shows by co-musical director Chuck Larkin and other times by co-musical director Mark Weston.
Lehman credits his granddaughter Carlyn Hudson with the choreography (also shown in a video) so you know that the love of music and performance is passing down to another generation. BTW, Lehman is a faculty member at Loyola University and has taught acting, musical theatre and Shakespeare at DePaul and Northwestern Universities.
Directed by Mark Lococo who knows the Lehman family, the play is a way to better understand the War Years.
“Sentimental Journey: A Musical Tale of Love and War” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, through May 26. Run time: 100 minutes including one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 735-8554 and visit Citadel Theatre.
After a seven-week strike, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s musicians and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s board have agreed to a new five-year contract. The new agreement was ratified this weekend following negotiation sessions mediated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Retroactive to September 2018 and going through September 2023, the agreement covers working conditions, a 14 % wage increase over five years plus changing to a Defined Contribution Retirement Plan from a Defined Benefit Pension Plan.
“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been a cultural treasure for this community for 128 years,” said CSOA Board of Trustees Chair Helen Zell. “Our Trustees recognize and honor the exceptional artistry of the musicians. This new agreement reflects the excellence of the Orchestra and ensures that the musicians receive the outstanding compensation they deserve, while securing their and the CSOA’s long-term financial sustainability through the retirement plan transition,” said Zell.
Begun April 2018, negotiations between the association and the musicians’ had expired March 10, 2019 after a 6-month extension.
The musicians were represented by Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208 President Terryl Lynn Jares and legal counsel Robert E. Bloch of Dowd, Bloch, Bennett, Cervone, Auerbach & Yokich. The association was represented by legal counsel Marilyn Pearson of McDermott Will & Emery LLP.
The 2018/19 season, including a Symphony Center Presents Chamber Music concert with violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Evgeny Kissin, and the CSO subscription concerts conducted by Music Director Riccardo Muti, are resuming. For program details visit CSO.org.