2013 Summer Season: Ravinia will come out swinging with jazz tribute to Benny Goodman
Ravinia Festival 2013 Best Bets: John Adam’s “The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” the return of body-bending Pilobolus, Max Richter’s contemporary riff on Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” Verdi’s exotic “Aida,” Yo-Yo Ma’s Goat Rodeo Sessions with bluegrass icons, visits by classical superstars Maxim Vengerov and Lang Lang. Here are some highlights.
By Nancy Malitz
If you want to branch out a bit musically, the summertime Ravinia Festival in Highland Park is a good place for it. There, classical music lovers sample niche-expanding novelties of the sort that gave Brooklyn Academy of Music its must-see reputation. College students picnic on the lawn for free when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs. And family friendly movie prices rule for recitals featuring the latest contest winners and stars on the rise.
“The more cross-pollinating, the better,” says festival president and CEO Welz Kauffman. “I am not a silo person. I am very much grateful that Manny Ax is going to be performing Beethoven this summer with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which is going to be thrilling, at the pinnacle of what this festival can be. And music director James Conlon conducting Verdi’s ‘Aida’ is going to be marvelous.
“But I think it’s also great that we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Benny Goodman’s 1938 Ravinia concert — I mean here was a Chicago guy who played clarinet, who was Jewish, and who was a wild man, controversial at a time when jazz was hot — hot being a code word for sexy.
“Today we think of Benny as a luxurious Lawrence Welk, but he wasn’t like that. He further embroidered jazz’s eclectic presentation mode and what he was doing was a little dangerous.” The 1938 Ravinia concert happened just six months after Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert — not only jazz’s historic coming out party in the country’s cathedral of musical respectability, but also a racially integrated band in an era of segregation.
Kauffman says that over the last decade Ravinia has cultivated a strong new audience for ambitious works with a theatrical component — “the events that make you think you’d better be there because you don’t want to be at a cocktail party the next night and say you missed it.”
He puts the 2003 performance of John Adams’s Nativity oratorio “El Niño,” and the 2006 performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s pulsating “Ainadamar” (Fountain of Tears), set in bloodsoaked fascist Granada, in the category of new-audience builders that are now paying off for the festival. He says he believes his intrepid audience will turn out again for John Adams’ “The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” which tells the story of Christ’s suffering, death and crucifixion from the controversial standpoint of a contemporary Mary Magdelene in Los Angeles.
The wide range of events extends from pop newcomers Matchbox Twenty and the Goo Goo Dolls, who make their Ravinia debut, to a line-up rich in icons of rock, folk, country, jazz and world music — such as Sting, Judy Collins, Alabama, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, Anita Baker and the Gipsy Kings.
So there’s much to sample. The 2013 Ravinia Festival runs June 5-Sept. 8. Tickets go on sale April 25 — earlier, if you make a donation. Patrons who make a $100 donation can purchase lawn tickets starting March 13. Donors at $300 can purchase Pavilion seats now. For a complete schedule, go here. Now for some tickets that look particularly hot to us:
(In the Ravinia Festival Pavilion with additional lawn seating unless otherwise indicated.)
- June 14 — Benny Goodman Tribute: On the 75th anniversary of Benny Goodman’s Ravinia Festival debut, which followed a historic Carnegie Hall appearance that shattered the music and color barriers of the day, the Highland Park festival erects a 40×60-foot dance floor on the lawn and invites crowds to swing the night away with the help of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra and five guest artists — singers Sylvia McNair and Cyrille Aimée and clarinetists Anat Cohen, Larry Combs and Eric Schneider. Numbers to include “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Avalon,” “Swingtime in the Rockies” and, of course, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
- June 15 — Mormon Tabernacle Choir: The 360-voice ensemble — now that’s a large chorus — stops midway through their six-city Midwest tour in the company of their 110-member Orchestra at Temple Square. Both Salt Lake City organizations are volunteer. The choir’s last appearance at Ravinia, in 2007, sold out.
- June 18-19 — Rachmaninoff Vespers: A rare opportunity to hear a spell-binding work for a cappella chorus honoring the tradition of the Russian Orthodox all-night vigil. The Minnesota-based choral ensemble called The Singers, with founding artistic director Matthew Culloton, takes on this reverential series of 15 psalms, hymns and prayers, much of it drawn from ancient chants. Location note: June 18 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Highland Park; June 19 at Martin Theatre on Ravinia’s grounds.
- June 23 — Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” Recomposed: British composer Max Richter has recorded his cutting edge homage to Vivaldi, and the same artists present his take on this classic at Ravinia — British violinist, chamber musician, broadcaster and producer Daniel Hope and conductor Tito Muñoz, music director of New York City’s popular avant-garde musical hangout Le Poisson Rouge. You can sample Richter’s far-from-Baroque creation here.
- Aug. 18 — Yo-Yo Ma and Friends: The Goat Rodeo Sessions: Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project traversed the Asian cultural landscape, and now his Goat Rodeo Sessions take similar joy in Americana. The classical cellist joins forces with some legends of bluegrass — Nashville bassist and composer Edgar Meyer, fiddler Stuart Duncan, mandolinist Chris Thile and singer Aoife O’Donovan — to bring the spontaneity of their Grammy-winning album to summer festivals that also include Tanglewood and the Hollywood Bowl.
- Aug. 26 — “The Little Match Girl Passion”: David Lang’s re-imagined children’s fairy tale, which was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008, comes to Ravinia for the first time in a concert that also features works performed by the contemporary ensemble Eighth Blackbird. Lang’s haunting chamber piece is for four voices and a few percussion instruments played by the singers. You can sample it on CD or from a WQXR broadcast in late 2012. Location note: Martin Theatre.
- Sept. 7 — John Adams’s “The Gospel According to the Other Mary”: Midwest premiere. Commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, this massive re-telling of the last days of Christ from the standpoint of a suffering modern-day heroine was first presented in 2012 in concert and is now being re-introduced in L.A., New York and on European tour in a dramatized form by Peter Sellars. The Ravinia presentation is the original concert version, performed by the original performers, although it does include musical revisions that Adams has made in the interim. Here is more from Adams’s website.
- Sept. 15 — Pilobolus Dance Theater: This mind- and body-bending troupe named after a fungus, whose witty and collaborative works have had a lasting influence on the evolution of modern dance, returns to Ravinia for the first time in 34 years.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 78th Summer Residency Highlights
(Music director James Conlon. In the Ravinia Festival Pavilion with additional lawn seating.)
- July 17 – Russian violin virtuoso Maxim Vengerov: Vengerov has been storming the planet with blistering performances since his four-year enforced sabbatical, brought on by injury to his shoulder. He joins Conlon in celebrating the centennial of Benjamin Britten, performing the Violin Concerto, a rare treat in the U.S. The year 2013 is also the bicentennial of Richard Wagner, and the concert’s filled with excerpts from both composers’ operas –Britten’s “Peter Grimes,” Wagner’s “Rienzi,” “The Flying Dutchman” and “Lohengrin.” (Vengerov will also give a Martin Theatre recital with pianist Itamar Golan on July 15, featuring sonatas by Beethoven, Schubert and Franck.)
- July 25 – Conlon conducts Mahler’s Seventh Symphony: “Don’t ask me to pick out my favorite Mahler symphony, because I cannot,” says Conlon in a Youtube interview about the season, adding that the Seventh did take longer to establish itself with the public, in part because of its technical challenges. “But those great difficulties pose no difficulty whatsoever to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Go hear an orchestra of lesser caliber try to find their way through it, and you will realize how difficult it is. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is unquestionably the greatest Mahler orchestra in the world.”
- July 27 – Pianist Lang Lang returns: He performs Beethoven’s Concerto No. 1 and Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3, Conlon conducting, in a concert that’s also a gala fund-raiser. Ravinia audiences have always felt a special kinship with Lang Lang, because it was on the Pavilion stage in 1999 that he appeared, at 17, as a last-minute sub for the ailing Andre Watts. Still a student at the time, Lang Lang had flown in from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia to audition for a spot in Ravinia’s future seasons, and instead found himself abruptly performing the music of Tchaikovsky onstage with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In his memoir, he wrote that he recognized the moment as “the beginning of a new life.”
- Aug. 3 – “Aida” in concert: It’s also the Verdi bicentennial year, and Conlon conducts “Aida,” the opera about an Ethiopian princess, enslaved in Egypt, who finds herself embroiled in a dangerous rivalry for the love of an Egyptian warrior. Soprano Latonia Moore, who sings the huge title role, stepped in on less than a day’s notice to sing it at the Metropolitan Opera in 2012 and impressed the New York Times, which reported that the audience loved her: “That Ms. Moore is a young black artist singing the most famous African heroine in opera lent an extra dimension to her affecting portrayal. Ms. Moore has enormous potential.” Moore is joined by Chicago favorite mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung as her rival Amneris, and by tenor Roberto Alagna, in his Ravinia debut as Radames.
- Aug. 15-16 – “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” Audiences cannot get enough of great films with great film scores, performed “live” in the sense that the canned sound is replaced by the real thing. “The Lord of the Rings — The Fellowship of the Ring” sold out in 2011. This is the second film of the trilogy, with music of Howard Shore, performed by the Chicago Symphony as the film is projected on giant screens in the Pavilion and on the lawn.
Martin Theatre Highlights
(This 850-seat indoor auditorium hosts many important chamber music events.)
- June 22 — “Diva on Detour”: Opera soprano Patricia Racette sang cabaret at Ravinia last summer. This year she’s back for some torch songs, with selections from her CD “Diva on Detour,” which offers Sondheim, Porter, Gershwin and Piaf. Of this repertoire she says, “Singing cabaret and jazz is returning home for me. It is where I started.”
- July 1 — Matthias Goerne: An outstanding interpreter of German art song in the tradition of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the German baritone Goerne joins pianist Alexander Schmalz in program of Mahler and Schumann settings by Friedrich Rückert, a multi-lingual translator of the poetry of Chinese, Indian and Arab masters, and himself a poet of splendid imagination.
- July 4 — Leonard Bernstein’s “Songfest”: A chamber orchestra version of Bernstein’s commission for the U.S. bicentennial receives its world premiere, featuring 12 songs for six singers in various combinations, to a treasury of American poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, e.e.cummings, Edgar Allan Poe and others. Alexander Platt conducts his arrangement for Ensemble Dal Niente, singers from the Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center and actors from Writers’ Theatre.
- July 9 — Handel’s “Israel in Egypt”: Music of the Baroque performs the Biblical oratorio of Egypt’s ten plagues, Moses’ crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh’s armies.
- July 13 — “Silver Rain”: American opera singer Nicole Cabell, 2005 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, joins composer and pianist Ricky Ian Gordon to perform his musical settings of Langston Hughes poems. You’ll find more about their project, and some audio samples, here.
- July 16 — “Brooklesca”: Midwest premiere of highlights from Brooklyn Rider’s musical world tour. Here’s a clip from the title. The group plays gobs of new music and 20th century oldies, too.
- Aug. 5-6 — Takács String Quartet: Over two nights, the complete Bartók Quartets. Named to Gramophone’s Hall of Fame, Takács is performing the Bartók cycle in many locations this year, including Carnegie Hall, Princeton, the Kennedy Center, Stanford, UC Berkeley and Boston. Written between 1908 and 1939, the six quartets, with their great technical and conceptual advance, stand among the most important contributions to the genre.
- Sept. 5 — “Rite of Spring”: In its centennial year, Stravinsky’s iconic work gets a five-piano treatment by siblings called The 5 Browns. All five of them were accepted simultaneously into Juilliard as students and they continue to tour extensively together. Here they are performing Stravinksy’s “Firebird” on a beach.
$10 BGH Series – Bennett Gordon Hall
(450 seats, priced to encourage curiosity.)
- July 22 — Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor: In his Ravinia debut, the young British musician – he won’t turn 21 until July — offers a recital of Chopin polonaises, Scriabin mazurkas and Bach’s Partita No. 4. Grosvenor’s debut recital disc on Decca brought a storm of critical praise. And a second release is just out – concertos by Ravel and Saint-Saëns plus Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
- Aug. 12 — Eight commissions: To celebrate Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute and its 25 years of training young music professionals, the institute’s emerging artists will perform a mini-festival of world premieres. The composers are Jake Heggie, Aaron Jay Kernis, Ramsey Lewis, David Ludwig (two works), Stephen Paulus, Roberto Sierra and Augusta Read Thomas.
- Aug. 25 — Sondheim reimagined: Pianist Anthony de Mare performs
Stephen Sondheim songs arranged for piano by such composers as William Bolcom, Nico Muhly, Steve Reich and Mark-Anthony Turnage.
- Aug. 20 — Pianist Gabriela Montero: Renowned for her prodigious skill at improvising on themes supplied on the fly by her audience, the Venezuelan-American virtuoso will demonstrate her flair for improv. She’ll also perform works by Brahms and Schumann.
- Sept. 1 — Cage and Glass: The Knights’ co-concertmaster Johnny Gandelsman performs experimental masterpieces by leading 20th-century composers John Cage and Philip Glass.
Pop Music Highlights
(In the Ravinia Festival Pavilion with additional lawn seating.)
- June 6 — Don McLean and Judy Collins: Known for her blending of pop and folk idioms, Collins has enjoyed a career spanning more than 50 years. McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie” is enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
- June 7 and 8 – Sting: Following two sold-out concerts in his 2010 Ravinia debut, Sting’s return is part of his “Back to Bass” tour. Winner of 10 Grammy Awards, Sting has sold nearly 100 million albums as solo artist and with The Police.
- June 9 – Joan Baez and Indigo Girls: Iconic folkie Baez has produced such hits as “Diamonds and Rust” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Indigo Girls won fame with songs like “Galileo” and “Closer to Fine.”
- June 13 – Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band: With a band named for his character in the award-winning film “Forrest Gump,” Gary Sinise along with the Lt. Dan Band makes his Ravinia debut on bass guitar. A Chicago native, Sinise is a co-founder of Steppenwolf Theatre.
- June 29 — Melissa Etheridge: The powerhouse vocalist makes her festival debut on a quadruple bill with Paula Cole, Joan Osborne and Jessie Payo. Etheridge’s string of hits includes “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window.”
- July 14 – Willie Nelson: A country music legend, the 79-year-old Nelson has written and recorded such hits as “On the Road Again,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” and “Crazy.” He also has made more than 30 feature films. Joining Nelson will be his son Lukas with his band P.O.T.R.
- July 19 — Sheryl Crow: Megastar Crow’s seven albums have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide, and she recently released her first country single, “Easy.” Winner of nine Grammys, her biggest hits include “If It Makes You Happy,” “Every Day Is a Winding Road” and “All I Wanna Do.”
- July 26 — Brian Wilson: It’s the Ravinia debut for Beach Boys co-founder Wilson, whose enduring echoes of the surfer song era include “I Get Around,” “In My Room” and, of course, “Surfer Girl.”
- Aug 1 and 2 — Steely Dan: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, Steely Dan can claim worldwide album sales of more than 30 million and major hits like “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” “Do It Again” and “Hey Nineteen.”
- Aug 20 – Journey: Among the all-time best selling rock bands, Journey has notched 19 top-40 singles and 25 gold or platinum albums. Major hits include “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms” and “Who’s Crying Now.”
- Aug. 22 — Tony Bennett: The ageless one returns to Ravinia on a wave of 17 Grammy Awards and untold millions of albums sold over a career spanning more than six decades. He will turn 87 on Aug. 3, but that silvery voice seems immune to wear. What brings Tony back into our midst? He left his heart in Highland Park, of course.
- Aug. 24 and 25 – Chicago: The history of this wildly popular rock band is told in the numbers: 25 of 30 albums certified platinum, record sales topping the 100 million mark, 21 top-10 singles, five consecutive number-one albums, 11 number-one singles and five gold singles.
- Aug. 28 – Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis and vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater: Chicago native and jazz luminary Ramsey Lewis, Ravinia’s artistic director of jazz, shares the spotlight with jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. Lewis’ gold records include “The ‘In’ Crowd,” “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water.” Bridgewater is a three-time Grammy Award-winner, Tony-winning actress and host of NPR’s syndicated radio show “JazzSet.”
Performance location, dates and times: Go to ravinia.org
Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, music director James Conlon conducting, in the Ravinia Festival Pavilion 2012. (This and other lawn and park photos courtesy of Ravinia Festival.) Mouse over the artists’ publicity photos for additional information.
Tags: Anthony de Mare, Aoife O'Donovan, Benjamin Grosvenor, Benny Goodman, Brian Wilson, Brooklyn Rider, Chicago, Chris Thile, David Lang, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Don McLean, Edgar Meyer, Emanuel Ax, Ensemble Dal Niente, Gabriela Montero, Gary Sinise, Goat Rodeo Sessions, Goo Goo Dolls, Indigo girls, James Conlon, Joan Baez, John Adams, John Cage, Johnny Gandelsman, Judy Collins, Lang Lang, Latonia Moore, Leonard Bernstein, Lt. Dan Band, Matchbox Twenty, Matthias Goerne, Max Richter, Maxim Vengerov, Melissa Etheridge, Michelle DeYoung, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Music of the Baroque, Nicole Cabell, Patricia Racette, Peter Sellars, Philip Glass, Pilobolus, Ramsey Lewis, Ravinia Festival, Ricky Ian Gordon, Rite of Spring, Roberto Alagna, Ryan Opera Center, Sheryl Crow, Steans Music Institute, Steely Dan, Stephen Sondheim, Sting, Stravinsky, Stuart Duncan, Takács String Quartet, Tony Bennett, Verdi, Wes Kauffman, Willie Nelson, Writers' Theatre, Yo-Yo Ma