Ravinia Festival President and CEO Welz Kauffman begins his 19th year with North America’s longest-running music festival as the Chicago Tribune’s 2018 Chicagoan of the Year for Classical Music. But he is hardly resting on his laurels. This year’s season will present 140 events between May 31 (Chicago jazz legend Ramsey Lewis is the opener) and September 15.
Seventy of the artists, including Tash Saltana (June 1), Lionel Ritchie (June 11-12), Lady Antebellum ( July 10), Queen Latifah (August 31), Kesha (September 8) and Morrissey (September 14), will be making their debuts in Ravinia’s Pavilion. Fifty works will be performed at Ravinia for the first time, including “Penelope,” ( July 28) the last piece by Andre Previn, who passed away last February that will be per- formed by Renee Fleming and the Emerson String Quarter.
A summer at Ravinia wouldn’t be the same without Tony Bennett, who, at 92, will perform on June 21. Other returning local heroes and festival mainstays on the schedule include John Prine ( June 8), Buddy Guy ( June 14), Lyle Lovett ( July 23), Chicago (August 10-11), and Common (August 31).
Ravinia will host a mini Boomer-palooza with Ringo Starr and the Beach Boys, who will co- headline August 3-4. Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” and the oratorio “Considering Matthew Shepard,” two of the most ambitious and critically-acclaimed events from the 2018 season, will receive encore performances on July 20 and Sept. 12, respectively.
But these highlights just scratch the surface of a festival whose motto takes it cue from the immortal Stephen Sondheim lyric, “Something for everyone,” from Sugarland ( June 30) to the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (August 16), from Sting (August 23) to the a capella ensemble Stile Antico (June 18) from comedy (“Weird Al” Yankovich on July 28) to cabaret (Spider Saloff’s tribute to Rosemary Clooney on July 29) to classic movies accompanied by a live orchestra (“West Side Story” on July 12).
The screening of West Side Story, along with the reprise of “Mass” is part of the continuation of last summer’s celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial. Highlights include the first ever at Ravinia full-length production of Candide(August 28) and the suburban tragi-comedy Trouble in Tahiti, a one-act hour-long opera. (it will be performed twice on August 22). This year marks the 75th anniversary of Bernstein’s debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which took place—you guessed it—at Ravinia.
It would be difficult to upstage any of these artists or events, but the biggest Ravinia debut will occur offstage. Opening later in the summer is the Ravinia Music Box Experience, a 9,500-square-foot building connected to the Ravinia Dining Pavilion by an observation bridge. In addition to a museum space that will open with the Grammy Museum’s “Leonard Bernstein at 100” exhibit, it will feature a 360- degree movie experience by the Bob Rogers Company, whose credits include the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and the Ryman Experience at the Ryman Au- ditorium in Nashville.
The movie is a work in progress, Kauffman said in a phone interview. The entire amenity itself—free to Ravinia visitors—is “an exciting venture that might gently present festival-goers an opportunity to experience the grandeur of classical music. We’re going to work to get it just right. Anything new is going to take a while to evolve. That’s the fun part.”
The building will also contain a new Ravinia dining option, the rooftop BMO Club, which will offer “fast eats” and a full bar. The BMO Club is an outgrowth of the success of the alfresco Lawn Bar, which opened at Ravinia last season. “People want to be outside and enjoy the beautiful Chicago summer,” Kauffman said. “The BMO Club will allow them to eat outside but with an upstairs view overlooking the park.”
One of Kauffman’s objectives during his tenure, he said, was to expand the breadth of Ravinia’s programming. This had taken “a lot of shoe leather and persistence,” he said with a laugh. For
example, in a city that houses perhaps America’s most listened- to country station, US-99, Kauffman wanted to make country music more of a priority. Booking Carrie Underwood in 2009 was a game-changer that can be seen in the inclusion this year of such popular artists as Lady Antebellum.
When asked to name some of the concerts this season to which he is most looking forward, he responded, “(the July 3 Ravinia debut of ) Fred Hersch, a great jazz pianist. ‘Considering Matthew Shepard’ is not dissimilar to ‘Mass’ in that a lot of people who missed it heard from friends how wonderful it was. Among the classical offerings and recitals, there’s violinist Yevgeny Kutik. And who doesn’t want to see Sting? That’s more obvious, but I’ve always been a fan.
“We’ve hit the motherlode, quality-wise,” he enthused.
For more information about the season ahead, call 847-266-5100 or visit ravinia.org.