To keep the music going Ravinia Festival has been broadcasting excellent concerts on Friday nights. However, the one coming up is particularly special given that the artist, pianist Leon Fleisher, won’t be heard live again. Fleisher died at age 92 on Aug. 2, 2020.
In a tribute to Fleisher, Ravinia Festival will do a broadcast of a past concert, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. CT on WFMT.
The program will bring back the “Leon Fleisher and Friends” program that celebrated his 90th birthda, performed and recorded July 23, 2018 in Ravinia’s Martin Theatre.
“Leon Fleisher was a great artist. His integrity and commitment to truth, his unerring sense of proportion, his larger-than-life persona, the sheer beauty of his sound, and the power of conviction in his playing were unparalleled and mesmerizing,” said Miriam Fried, director of the Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI) Program for Piano & Strings. Fleisher had been a program faculty member for 24 summers.
The birthday concert features Fleisher’s playing “Sheep May Safely Graze” from Bach’s “Birthday” Cantata No. 208 and Kirchner’s “For the Left Hand” written for Fleisher in 1995.
It also includes his wife, pianist Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, joining him in the four-hands piece of Schubert’s Fantasy D. 940 and Ravel’s La Valse.
In addition, the Argus Quartet and bassist Kit Polenperform alongside Fleisher in an arrangement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12, K. 385p. The Argus Quartet was in residence at RSMI in 2017 and had won the M-Prize and Victor Elmaleh competitions later that year.
It doesn’t matter that some of the memorable concerts conducted by Pierre Boulez or Sir Georg Solti were during the 1990s. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association has pulled some of their programs from the Rosenthal Archives so that music aficionados still have great music to enjoy while Orchestra Hall is dark.
Calling the initiative “Gems From the Vault,” the online program lists historic broadcasts available with a click on a free subscribe link.
Among the offerings is Boulez conducting a 1999 concert that starts with Stravinsky’s The Song of the Nightingale followed by CSO principal harpist Sarah Bullen with Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances then concluding with Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.
Another CSO initiative brings its musicians and guests from their homes to yours.
Ravinia Festival has joined the growing list of arts organizations presenting special programs while their in-person venues are shuttered. Dubbed RaviniaTV, the program is a 20-minute weekly variety show that can be found on YouTube and Facebook. Fridays at 7 p.m. CDT.
The series starts with Ramsey Lewis performing from home on July 3 and with Chicago performances recorded last year.
Future episodes will include CSO concertmaster Robert Chen, pianist Kevin cole, vocalist Sylvia McNair, and other performers.
“It broke our hearts when the Covid pandemic forced Ravinia to cancel a season for the first time since the Great Depression, so the whole team got together to create ways to stay connected to the Ravinia Family, our artists, and audiences in what would otherwise be our silent summer,” said Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman.
“So many of the longtime legends, as well as nascent stars, associated with Ravinia shared the same sense of urgency to keep the music playing as we all struggle with the hardships of this strange new reality. The solution was a show that not only shares music but offers a casual, conversational feeling like you would have on the Lawn at Ravinia,” Kauffman said.
The series, the brain child of Ravinia Communications Director Nick Pullia, is a mix of new, past, home and in-house (on Ravinia’s stage) concerts.
Episodes also have interviews with such guests as Ravinia Chief Conductor and Curator Marin Alsop and such topics as how civil unrest and the pandemic and its economic fallout might affect the art produced in this era, or how to help your kids keep sane while social distancing.
So much has moved to virtual experiences that it is arguably easy to miss another fundraising concert. However, Ravinia fans who miss their picnic on the lawn this summer have a chance to create a unique, virtual experience, this Saturday.
Ravinia is holding “Living Room Lawn Party” at 8 p.m. CDT on June 27, 2020 that features Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress/singer Kristin Chenoweth as the emcee.
A pre-show slideshow starts at 7:45 followed by performances from Chenoweth, soprano Patricia Racette, pianist Kevin Cole and Jazz artist Ramsey Lewis with Ravinia Jazz scholars, plus other entertainers.
Sponsored by Allstate, BMO, The Dancing Skies Foundation, and the Ravinia Women’s Board, Living Room Lawn Party will benefit the non-for-profit festival and its mission, especially its efforts to bring music back into schools through its Reach Teach Play education programs serving more than 85,000 community members across Lake and Cook Counties. Even though those programs are virtual now, Ravinia is ensuring music education remains accessible and alive (and fun) for all students, according to a Ravinia Festival statement.
“Music is a vital part of our students’ lives, and although they are not meeting with teachers and peers in person right now, it has not stopped us from providing the support and guidance to continue to musically enrich them,” said Ravinia Festival President and CEO Welz Kauffman.
“From moving our in-person programs to a virtual setting, to providing easy access to sessions and lessons on YouTube to our students, parents and educators and to mobilizing the entire Ravinia Family to assemble and deliver musical care packages, we continue to keep music alive for all,” said Kauffman. Listeners tune in to the Living Room Lawn Party at Ravinia.org/LawnParty.
If you have been to Ravinia Festival, the Highland Park summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a popular outdoor venue of pop, jazz, folk and classical music entertainers, you likely remember lawn picnics under the stars or sitting in the Pavilion to catch a favorite recording artist.
But today, May 1, 2020, Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kaufman announced that the 2020 season has been canceled to protect the health and safety of its audiences, artists, staff and neighbors.
“Out lengthy and thorough discourse on this topic has brought us to the conclusion that it is impossible to move ahead with the season, “ said Kauffman referring to discussions with the Ravinia Board of Trustees and volunteers.
He also noted that Ravinia had been working with guest artists since February on how to proceed including rebooking performers in future seasons.
On the docket for this year were more than 120 programs from June 12 through Sept. 16 plus the Steans Music Institute, which will also be closed.
Ravinia, the oldest operating festival since 1904 had only canceled seasons from 1932 to 1935 due to the Great Depression.
Ticket holder options include refunds, vouchers for future programs and changing them to what would be much appreciated tax-donations.
The concert recording of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass,” announced earlier this year, is still scheduled for its PBS broadcast May 15. Kauffman added that Ravinia is also developing other virtual experiences, such as classes and lectures geared to students of all ages.
“The lives of these young students have been thrown in total disarray, so it is important that Ravinia helps where it can to provide the structure of these virtual classrooms. Our programs give young people a means of expression and connection with each other and their own quarantined families. We teach them that music is their superpower, and what better time than now to have a superpower?” Kauffman said.
He was joined in the announcement by Ravinia Board Chairman Don Civgin who said, “The crisis created by the Covid pandemic has impacted so much of our lives in dramatic ways. Ravinia will do its part in helping the nation recover.”
Civgin added,“We will celebrate that recovery with music under the stars next summer.”
If looking for something to distract from COVID-19 closings take a look at what Ravinia Festival, the famed primarily outdoor music venue has on its l2020 Calendar.
Even a brief scan shows that pop stars such as Sheryl Crow and Carrie Underwood, folk icons Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins, hip hop band The Roots, rock ‘n roll musician John Fogerty, pop-rock band Train, and classicalists pianist Jorge Federico Osorio and violinist Midori are on the schedule.
Plus, Ravinia’s newly appointed conductor and curator Marin Alsop will be conducting the CSO in an all Rachmaninoff evening with Lukass Vondracek playing the Rach 3, Itzhak Perlman will play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and the next day conduct the CSO for Ravinia’s annual Tchaikovsky spectacular.
Ravinia canceled events before June 1 due to the coronavirus but has said nothing so far, about the regular programing after June 1. Instead, its statement read: “Ticket sales to Ravinia’s summer lineup will occur as planned, with donors having access as early as March 17.”
April 28 is the date when the public can get tickets for the June and July concerts. August and September concerts go on sale April 29.
Tip: Ravinia goers sometimes become donors because the hottest tickets go quickly, Click Ravinia/Fund for the donor fee structure and what each level offers.
The Ravinia Festival is at the south end of North Suburban Highland Park between Sheriday and Green Bay Rds, just north of Lake Cook Road. For more Ravinia information visit Ravinia.
Ravinia goers may recall that Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonyh No. 1 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 were brilliantly played by the CSO and conducted by Marin Alsop in 2018. They may also remember that the conductor of the highly lauded Bernstein “Mass” performed July 2017 was also conducted by Alsop. The final protégé of Leonard Bernstein, Alsop was appointed in 2018 to curate Ravinia’s multi-season celebration of Bernstein.
This week, Ravinia announced that its Board of Trustees has named the highly regarded Alsop to the new position of Chief Conductor and Curator of Ravina Fesival beginning with the 2020 season.
If you want to see Train, that multiple Grammy award band at Ravinia this summer, be ready to grab your tickets in the next couple of weeks.
The calendar says January but Ravinia Festival in Highland Park has already scheduled Train, a big summer draw, for Aug. 21-22. However, tickets to the sure-to-sell-out concert are going on sale to Ravinia donors at the Patron level and above beginning Jan. 17, 2020 and to the public Jan. 24. The place to go for tickets is Ravinia.org.
Featuring frontman Patrick Monahan, guitarist Luis Maldonado, bassist/singer Hector Maldonado, keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Becker, drummer Matt Musty, and backup singers Sakai Smith and Nikita Houston, Train has quickly sold out in the past.
Among their hit singles are “Calling All Angels,” “Get to Me,” “Ordinary” from Spider-Man 2, “Meet Virginia,” “Drops of Jupiter,” and “Hey, Soul Sister.”
The complete Ravinia season will be announced on March 12 but if you go to the Ravina site now look for winter concerts in Bennett Hall. “Coming to America: Songs of American Immigrants” will be in Bennett on Jan. 25.
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.