Illinois’s Ravinia Festival Thrives On Private Funding (Part 1)

August 24, 2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thorner

Summer to me means that Ravinia Festival time is here again, where music under the stars becomes available from June through the beginning of September in Highland Park, IL, about 30 miles due north of Chicago, and a short drive from my home in Lake Bluff.

During the Ravinia season the Union Pacific North Line offers service from Chicago to Kenosha, stopping at the entrance of Ravinia Park to drop off concert-goers, with service returning back to Chicago after each performance.

Summer to me means that Ravinia Festival time is here again, where music under the stars becomes available from June through the beginning of September in Highland Park, IL, about 30 miles due north of Chicago, and a short drive from my home in Lake Bluff.

During the Ravinia season the Union Pacific North Line offers service from Chicago to Kenosha, stopping at the entrance of Ravinia Park to drop off concert-goers, with service returning back to Chicago after each performance.

For decades the Ravinia Festival has been a source of gainful employment for high school and college age students who at the same time can enjoy all of Ravinia’s musical offerings at the same time.  Not unlike in past years, Ravinia 2012 finds young people employed as ushers, parking attendants, and as hostesses and servers in restaurant settings.  Most likely they are also serving in other positions behind the scenes, unseen by the public.

Welz Kauffman is currently President and CEO of of the Ravinia Festival and began his tenure in 2000. www.ravinia.org/WelzKauffman.aspx

Ravinia can also boast of its very generous private support from numerous Illinois businesses and corporations which under write and sponsor every Ravinia concert, which enables Ravinia to thrive as the premium music festival it is without government support with it propensity to dictate how funding is to be used.  Like many arts organization, ticket sales fall far short of the revenue needed to operate Ravinia Park.

Besides being the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia offers something for everyone.  Tony Bennett was the featured artist on Friday August 17.  At age 85, Bennett was able to wow a capacity crowd that filled every inch of Ravinia Park with  vocal renditions that displayed a voice that is as ageless as his music.  highlandpark.patch.com/articles/tony-bennett-wows-at-24th-ravinia-performance

Opera an early feature of the Ravinia Festival

Illinois’s Ravinia Park has the distinction of being the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States.  During the 1920’s, the iconic arch over the festival’s main entrance read “Ravinia Opera.”  During Ravinia’s 1912 season, five weeks of nothing but “grand opera” was offered for a total of 35 performances of 13 different operas.

Friends in Lake Bluff, who both lived until 100 years of age, often spoke fondly to me of having attended opera when little girls traveling by train on excursions to Ravinia Park with their Sunday School class.

Imagine today’s reaction if nothing but opera were featured at Ravinia Park!  Opera for many individuals is a musical entity that is roundly dismissed as not to their liking without even giving it a chance to be part of their musical experiences.

Perhaps the most common reason for the rejection of opera is that it has never been explained in terms that would allow whose who dismiss opera to experience opera in a way that would speak directly to them.  But there is also the language barrier.

Opera is sung in many different languages, which reflects the language selected by the composer at the time the opera was written.

In years past the story line was difficult to follow.  Even knowing the plot didn’t bring about a complete understanding of all that was happening on the stage.  Now days captions in English are featured above the stage, coinciding with the words being sung by the performers, so there is no longer a guessing game about the drama unfolding on the stage

Ravinia’s Music Director revives opera presentations

Thanks to James Conlon, Music Director of the Chicago Symphony’s summer residency, and Music Director since 2006 of the Los Angeles Opera Company, Ravinia opera has been revived during his eight-year tenure as the Ravinia Festival’s music director.

Similar to the musical, “Brigadoon”, although the mysterious Scottish village appears for only day every hundred years, every two years James Conlon turns Ravinia’s Martin Theater into an opera house, complete with English captions to be viewed above the stage.

Two Mozart opera were selected to be featured by Conlon during the current 2012 Ravinia season.  Mozart’s first and his last opera:  “Idomeneo” and “The Magic Flute”, respectively.  Performances took place on Aug. 16 and 17 in the Martin Theater, with matinee performances on August 19 and 20.

Who hasn’t heard the name of “Mozart” (Born Jan. 27, 1756 – Died Dec. 5, 1791), even if classical music appears stale and foreign to their ears?     www.biography.com/people/wolfgang-mozart-9417115

Those old enough to remember will recall the 1967 film, “Elvira Madigan,” where Mozart’s Piano Concerto provided the sound track. rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19671222/REVIEWS/712220301/1023

Mozart, as child prodigy, died young at age 36.  Even so, what Mozart was able to compose in his short lifetime is amazing and almost beyond comprehension.

Mozart’s composed works include Symphonies; Concertos; Piano music; Chamber music; Serenades, divertimenti and other instrumental works; Sacred music; Church sonatas; Organ music; Operas; and Concert arias, songs and canons.  Most of Mozart’s  major works were composed between 1781 to 1791 when Mozart was 26 to 36 years of age, at which time death prematurely ended the genius that was Mozart.   en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List-of-compositions_by_Wolfgang_Amadeus_Mozart

The Enlightenment in Europe shapes Mozart and our nation’s Founding Fathers

Much of Mozart’s music life and music were shaped by The Enlightenment which was at the time spreading throughout much of Europe, bringing the principles of reason and equality into public consciousness, and replacing the dim of the Middle Ages.   Suddenly the lights began to come on in men’s minds and humankind moved forward.

These same principles of reason and equality found their way across the Atlantic Ocean to establish the basis by which our Founding Fathers conceived this nation’s “Declaration of Independence,” with its assertions that “all men are created equal” and “endowed with certain unalienable rights.”   www.npr.org/programs/specials/milestones/990602.motm.enlightenment.html

James Conlon’s enthusiasm and love of opera was evidenced by the way he brought Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and “Idomeneo” to life to all who elected to attend his hour-long pre-concert lectures, which ended just in time for Conlon to dash back to Martin Theater to prepare to conduct members of the CSO in the evening’s featured Mozart opera presentation.

Colon related how he likes nothing better than to introduce opera to those who have never before attended an opera performance.  And he did have the chance to do so.  It is Conlon’s practice to have a pre-concert lecture before every opera performance he conducts as music director of the Los Angeles Opera.

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