Grant Park and Ravinia festivals are back
By Joseph Cunniff
After months of COVID and cold, Chicago is back as a true summer resort. And two of the biggest reasons are our two summer music festivals, Grant Park and Ravinia. This writer has so many wonderful memories of both.
As a child, I’d go to Grant Park at the old bandshell, shaped like a half-circle, down near Roosevelt Road and the Field Museum. I went with my parents and my grandmother, and there, I heard my first Gershwin “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Later, I went there with my girlfriend, Kirsten. Mel Zellman of WFMT, dressed in a summer tux, would read short commentaries before each selection. After the concerts, you would walk north to Buckingham Fountain.
In 1978, the concerts moved to the Petrillo Music Shell near Columbus and Jackson. There, I saw talents develop who would go on to major international careers, including American conductors Leonard Slatkin and David Zinman. Now after the concerts, you could walk south to Buckingham Fountain.
In 2004, the Grant Park Music Festival moved to the Pritzker Pavilion at Michigan Avenue and Randolph in Lakefront Millennium Park, by far the best venue. And the terrific news today is that full seating capacity has been restored. Carlos Kalmar will return as principal conductor and will lead the Grant Park Orchestra with Chorus Director Christopher Bell and the Grant Park Chorus July 2–Aug. 21.
All concerts are free and will take place on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 6:30 p.m. (Exceptions: no concerts July 30 and 31). Concerts will be under 90 minutes and presented without intermission.
Among the July highlights I am looking forward to should be Kalmar leading a program of Leonard Bernstein, Sibelius and a viola concerto by Margaret Brouwer on July 16; and a program of Debussy, Saint-Saens, and a flute concerto by Saverio Mercandante July 28.
For more, visit gpmf.org.
My memories of Ravinia are equally splendid. As teens, my friends and I would hear pop groups like The Association. When I became interested in jazz, I saw Ramsey Lewis, and later the regular “Jazz in June” programs, as well as every single appearance by the incomparable Dave Brubeck Quartet.
As my interest in classical deepened, I first saw Seiji Ozawa conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, while wearing his flaring bell-bottom pants. When the CSO played Ravinia every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evening, I would always go to all three, seeing renowned international conductors including Kondrashin, Rostropovich and Masur.
My brother and I would take my parents to unforgettable evenings of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin. When I gave up my car, I started taking the Metra train from the Ogilvie Transportation Center downtown, from Lawrence and Ravenswood, or from Evanston. I still very much enjoy taking the train.
Today, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia has its first female music director: Marin Alsop. One of the last pupils of Leonard Bernstein, she sometimes reminds you of him with her gestures. She has had an outstanding international career to date, from Baltimore and Colorado to Bournemouth, Vienna, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her July highlights leading the CSO should include a program of Ravel, Beethoven and the too-often overlooked Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera on July 17. On July 22, she’ll conduct the Prokofiev Symphony No. 1 and the Mahler Fourth. On July 23, she will lead a program of Haydn, Brahms, and the Copland Clarinet Concerto with soloist Anthony McGill. Ravinia favorite James Conlon will lead an all-Mozart evening Aug. 6.
For ticket information, visit Ravinia.org or call 847-266-5100.