The Ravinia Festival remains one of the nation’s heavyweight classical music impresarios even if it increasingly finds itself in the position of playing Goliath to the David of the Grant Park Music Festival at Millennium Park. Ho-hum symphonic fare dominates the classical programming. Pop music and other, more commercial lures seem to be pushing classical to the sidelines. Even Ravinia’s longtime blue-chip resident, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, now plays second fiddle to pop headliners, on some occasions.
And the 2012 summer schedule, just announced, is no exception.
As a result, audience members in search of truly adventuresome symphonic and choral programs during the hot-weather months may find more of what they crave at risk-taking Grant Park, which, because of municipal sponsorship, still can afford to present its concerts free of charge.
On the other hand, few big-money U.S. summer music festivals can match Ravinia for sheer quantity and variety of attractions. With the CSO settling into its 77th annual residency at its warm-weather retreat in Highland Park, and an almost-nightly array of concerts, Ravinia again promises more than enough music and dance to keep the box office busy throughout the summer.
The 15-week festival, spanning more than 100 classical, pop, jazz, country, folk and dance events, will run June 7-Sept. 9 at verdant Ravinia Park.
Ravinia won’t be celebrating any composer anniversaries this summer (Wagner and Verdi must wait their turn in 2013), but the 35th anniversary of James Conlon’s Ravinia debut will be marked with a number of interesting events.
The music director, whose contract has been extended through 2014, will bring another pair of Mozart operas to Ravinia’s Martin Theatre, with semi-staged concert performances of “Idomeneo” and “The Magic Flute” concluding the CSO residency on Aug. 16-19.
(Ravinia does not appear to be fazed by the fact that both Lyric Opera and Chicago Opera Theater are staging their own productions of “Magic Flute” this season.)
Conlon also will take charge of the latest entry in his “Breaking the Silence” series of forgotten works by composers banned during the Third Reich – Kurt Weill’s first stage work, “Magical Night,” in the U.S. premiere of the complete 1922 score. A children’s pantomime, the piece survived in incomplete form until the original instrumental parts were discovered in a Yale University vault in 2005. The mime troupe T. Daniels Productions will join Conlon and CSO members for the July 19 performance in the Martin Theatre.
Broadway and Ravinia favorite Patti Lupone and opera diva Patricia Racette will headline the annual gala benefit evening, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Ravinia’s women’s board. Conlon and Rob Fisher will share baton duties for that July 21 event.
Making their Ravinia podium debuts with the CSO will be Jaap van Zweden, July 7; and Gianandrea Noseda, Aug. 2. Steven Reineke will direct an all-American pops program with the CSO on July 4; soprano Ashley Brown (currently starring in “Show Boat” at the Lyric) is the soloist. Richard Kaufman will front an orchestral pops concert of his own, headlined by veteran vocalist Barbara Cook, on July 15.
Returning will be former Ravinia music director Christoph Eschenbach, who will conduct an all-Brahms program on July 13, followed by Dvorak and Korngold on July 14. He also will partner baritone Matthias Goerne in a recital of German lieder July 16.
John Axelrod will lead Holst’s “The Planets” – this year’s “One Score, One Chicago” component of Ravinia’s Reach-Teach-Play education programs – on July 31. Also returning will be conductor Marvin Hamlisch, who will partner vocalist Idina Menzel (star of “Wicked” and “Glee”) for a CSO concert on July 8.
Other Martin Theatre recitals will be given by singers Kiri Te Kanawa (Aug. 14), baritone Gerald Finley (Aug. 9) and Stephanie Blythe (July 2); guitarist Angel Romero (July 8); and pianists Denis Matsuev (July 30); Vladimir Feltsman (Aug. 15) and Misha and Cipa Dichter (July 29). Composer and pianist Philip Glass will join violinist Timothy Fain for a concert in honor of his 75th birthday (June 23).
Among the instrumental ensembles appearing at Ravinia this summer will be the Emerson (July 6), Tokyo (July 24) and Juilliard (Sept. 6) string quartets; a sextet including violinist Miriam Fried and pianist Leon Fleisher (June 21); and the Zukerman Chamber Players (June 26).
The successful series of $10 classical concerts in Bennett Gordon Hall will continue with recitals by violinist Rachel Barton Pine; pianists Jade Simmons, Daniil Trifonov, Sara Davis Buechner, Inon Barnatan and Orion Weiss; and cellists Zuill Bailey, Wolfgang Schmidt and Johannes Moser. The series also will include five performances by participants in Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute.
CSO soloists will include pianists Gabriela Montero, Sean Botkin, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yefim Bronfman and Matsuev; violinists Joshua Bell, Nicola Benedetti and Erik Schumann; cellist Leonard Elschenbroich; and soprano Nicole Cabell.
Dance events this summer include an original work set to Claude Debussy's “Clair de Lune” June 7 and 8, what's described as a jazz-oriented visit from River North Dance Chicago Aug. 21 and a return of “Botanica” by the veteran dance-visual art ensemble Momix Aug. 28.
New this summer will be a revamped website – ravinia.org – and a new smartphone application that will guide concertgoers around the park and even enable them to locate friends amid the picnicking throng on the lawn. In addition, patrons will find that the north parking lot has been extensively renovated.
The probing violinist Midori is always a treat to hear, although she never appears often enough in the Chicago area. She will return to Ravinia’s Martin Theatre to present a two-night survey of the complete J.S. Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin; July 3 and 5.
Jaap van Zweden, the Dutch-born maestro who has scored one success after another with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra downtown, makes his Ravinia debut with Mahler’s deeply tragic Symphony No. 6; July 7.
Music director James Conlon conducts the U.S. premiere of a forgotten early work of Kurt Weill, the children’s pantomime “Magical Night,” assisted by members of the CSO, artists from T.Daniels Productions and other soloists. Paired with Franz Schreker’s equally obscure “The Wind”; July 19.
Conlon continues his series of intimate concert stagings of the major Mozart operas with “Die Zauberflote” (“The Magic Flute”) and “Idomeneo.” Michael Ehrman will direct “Flute,” with actor Michael York narrating and a cast headed by Ailyn Perez, Charles Castronovo, Nathan Gunn, Erika Miklosa and Morris Robinson; Aug. 16 and 18. Singers for “Idomeneo” include Richard Croft, Susanna Phillips, Tamara Wilson and Ruxandre Donose. David Lefkowich directs; Aug. 17 and 19.
The New York-based chamber orchestra The Knights, conducted by Eric Jacobsen, will conclude the festival season with three Martin Theatre concerts, each with a big-name soloist – cellist Yo-Yo Ma(Sept. 7), violinist Itzhak Perlman (Sept. 8) and soprano Dawn Upshaw (Sept. 9).
-- John von Rhein
Pop: Glen Campbell to make festival debut
Glen Campbell will make his first and likely last Ravinia appearance June 28 on a bill with country singer Ronnie Milsap. Campbell, who has sold more than 45 million records, is in the midst of a farewell tour that included an appearance in February at the nationally televised Grammy Awards. The singer and guitarist is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Other artists making their Ravinia debuts announced Thursday include Santana (July 9), Duran Duran (Aug. 29), Seal (July 22), Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson (Aug. 23), Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks’ Tedeschi Trucks Band (July 18), the Blues Brothers (July 11), and Al Green (June 15) with the Chicago Children’s Choir. Singers Sarah McLachlan (June 30) and Natalie Merchant (July 10) also will appear for the first time, both with orchestras.
A triple-bill Aug. 22 dubbed “The Dukes of September” will blend Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald. Arlo Guthrie and Mary Chapin Carpenter will pay tribute to Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie, on his 100th anniversary (Aug. 19).
-- Greg Kot
Jazz: Esperanza Spalding, Tony Bennett, Reginald Robinson swing through town
In jazz, Ravinia has picked up the tempo a bit, with several high-profile events:
Nnenna Freelon will sing a “Tribute to Lena Horne” 8 p.m. June 22 in the Martin Theatre ($75 tickets, $10 lawn); bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding will make her Ravinia debut at 8 p.m. June 25 in the Pavilion ($55 tickets; $22-$27 lawn); a “Go Brazil!” program will feature Ravinia artistic director of jazz Ramsey Lewis and His Electric Band on a double-bill with Sergio Mendes at 7:30 p.m. June 27 in the Pavilion ($65 tickets; $22-$27 lawn); “Barbara Cook’s 85th Birthday” will feature the storied singer with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at 5 p.m. July 15 in the Pavilion ($50-$90 tickets; $10 lawn).
Singer-pianist Diana Krall will play at 8 p.m. July 17 in the Pavilion ($80 tickets; $27-$32 lawn); “A Tribute to Harold Arlen” will feature singer Ann Hampton Callaway and the John Pizzarelli Quartet with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 5 p.m. Aug. 5 in the Pavilion ($40-$70 tickets; $10 lawn).
Singer Tony Bennett makes his annual pilgrimage at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 18 in the Pavilion ($91 tickets, $28-$33 lawn). Chicago ragtime master Reginald Robinson plays in Bennett Gordon Hall at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 ($10 tickets; no lawn sales).
And the Steans Music Institute Jazz Showcase, featuring young musicians, will start at 6 p.m. June 15 in Bennett Gordon Hall ($10 tickets; no lawn sales).
-- Howard ReichCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun