PostHeaderIcon Seven Special Nights at Ravinia

Ravinia's early days

Ravinia’s early days

Ravinia started as a summer escape in 1904 when it opened as an amusement park complete with a baseball diamond, electric fountain and a casino with dining rooms and a dance floor. This first incarnation ended in 1910 but reopened a year later as a summer venue for classical music. Opera was added in 1912. Today, more than 100 years later, Ravinia is the oldest outdoor music festival in North America.

The park’s association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will mark its 80th anniversary next season. The venue remains a summer destination for world-class classical musicians. Yet, over the past two decades, the CSO has shared its summer residency with stars from the world of popular music. This profitable musical partnership can be seen as returning Ravinia back to its founding days as an amusement park with musical entertainment.

James Levine

James Levine

Nowadays, the pop calendar, with such stars as Diana Krall, Buddy Guy, the Moody Blues and Aretha Franklin,  is what draws the crowds and keeps the Ravinia Festival in the black. However, my Ravinia memories date back 40 years and innumerable nights spent picnicking on the lawn and seated on the indoor benches, listening to the Chicago Symphony under the batons of James Levine and Christoph Eschenbach. That is the tradition I want to honor today with my selection of seven nights of special orchestral and chamber music performances.

Here is the potpourri of my personal choices. I could easily made a dozen selections. You are entitled to your own favorites. Mine, in chronological and not ranking order are:

Joshwa Bell

Joshua Bell

July 12–Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Joshua Bell. Bell is a violin superstar whom I’ve never heard live. That explains why plus the Prokofiev Suite from Romeo and Juliet is such sublime music.

July 20–Susanne Malkki conducts the CSO. Ms. Malkki is garnering great notices for her conducting and I want to discover her for myself.

July 24–Calidore and Emerson String Quartets–A dream pairing of two chamber powerhouses with a wonderful program.


Susanne Malkki

August 15-17–Jonathan Biss’ second cycle of Beethoven Piano Sonatas. I enjoyed last season’s debut of this cycle. Have enthusiastically followed Biss’ playing and growing artistry over the past decade.

August 17–The Knights with Susan Graham–The Knights blew me away last season at Harris Theater with their superb playing. Opera star Susan Graham lends her creamy mezzo voice as an added bonus.

August 23–Lucerne Symphony Orchestra with James Gaffigan conducting. This is Claudio Abbado’s old orchestra of virtuoso players. Gaffigan is a rising star. The program includes another rising star, pianist Behzod Abduraimov, playing the lyrical Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto which I prefer to the overplayed Third.

Pacifica Quartet

Pacifica Quartet

September 1-3–Pacifica String Quartet–My favorite chamber ensemble tackling all 16 Beethoven String Quartets over five performances the way they tackled Shostokovich’s String Quartets several seasons back. The last time all four original members will play together. A Must-See!

Five of these evenings take place in the Pavilion. However, the Biss and Pacifica appearances are in Bennett Gordon Hall where the seated admission is only $10 per performance. And if you are a devoted lawn afficionado, as I was in my youth, you can enjoy all 7 special evenings (11 total performances) for an astoundingly low $100,  the same cost as for one Pavilion seat for Joshua Bell. For tickets click

I need to do penance for leaving James Levine’s return with “The Creation” and Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s’ “Catalogue d’Oiseaux” by Messian, whom I adore, off the list. Mea Culpa! Happy Summer Listening!

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