Ravinia Festival President and CEO Jeffrey Haydon has seen the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire twice.
The number of times he’s listened to tracks from the film, including the vigorous “Jai Ho,” a song that typically yanks people out of their seats and forces them to dance hard?
Too many to count.
“The soundtrack of that movie made it to the top three of my rotation the year the movie was released,” Haydon says. “And it keeps coming back, every single year. I spent time in Europe and in Turkey in my youth, but never in Southeast Asia. Slumdog Millionaire was my introduction to Indian music, and I didn’t just enjoy the music in the movie. I also thought the movie captured both the spirit and the beauty of the country.”
So, forgive Haydon if he’s having a difficult time containing his enthusiasm for A.R. Rahman’s appearance on the Ravinia stage August 20 (gates at the Highland Park venue open at 5 p.m.; concert starts at 8 p.m.). The Indian film composer, record producer, singer, and songwriter— also known as “The Mozart of Madras”— won two Academy Awards (Best Original Score, Best Original Song), two Grammy Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, and more for his work on Slumdog Millionaire.
The movie centers around 18-year-old Jamal Malik (portrayed by Dev Patel), who answers questions on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
Flashbacks show the journey he took before landing a spot on the quiz show.
“A.R. is an international superstar and a film-score trailblazer,” says Haydon, who took in—and was moved by—the July 14 Ravinia concert by the Amjad Ali Khan Trio, which celebrated the sarod, a string instrument from the Indian subcontinent.
“We are excited to welcome A-list artists and creative talents from across the globe to our stage. Presenting a full range of musical performances to a wide and diverse audience has been our mission through programming, education, and outreach.
“Artists like Rahman,” he continues, “are vital in the process of welcoming all and designating our festival as a global destination.”
Rahman, 55, has a distinct and eclectic style, drawing from Eastern classical music, electronic music sounds, global music genres, and traditional orchestral arrangements. He’s part Bollywood, part Hollywood.
And entirely gifted.
“Expect a lot of East meets West when A.R. Rahman performs,” Haydon says. “I can’t wait to see and hear him. You’ll have super, longtime fans of A.R. at Ravinia, along with first timers, all sharing in the excitement and the spirituality of the sounds. Add in the colors (of attire) across our lawn, the style, the aroma of the food … it’ll be an electric atmosphere.”
It’ll pay homage to Ravinia’s classical roots. Ravinia Festival Chief Conductor Marin Alsop, a mentee of Leonard Bernstein, is at the forefront of keeping classical music alive at North America’s oldest outdoor music festival (born in 1904, as a high-end amusement park). Conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Alsop has strived to introduce diverse artists to the Ravinia stage, spurring her 2022 Breaking Barriers program, which celebrates women, artists, and leaders in classical music today and for future generations.
“It’s perfect timing for Marin to be here,” Haydon says. “One of the best living conductors, and the top woman conductor in the world, she has vast experience in classical music.”
For more information, visit ravinia.org/ShowDetails/2036/ar-rahman. Ravinia is on Instagram at instagram.com/raviniafestival.