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Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States, with a series of outdoor concerts and performances held every summer from June to September. It has been the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1936. Located in Highland Park, IL, the festival operates on the grounds of Ravinia Park, with a variety of outdoor and indoor performing arts facilities.
The Ravinia neighborhood, once an incorporated village before annexation in 1899, is known as Ravinia, and retained its own post office until Autumn 2010. The business district on Roger Williams Ave., within walking distance from the Ravinia Festival grounds, includes neighborhood service businesses and restaurants. Ravinia takes its name from the ravines found nearby along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.
Performance and other venues
- The Pavilion, a 3,200-seat venue where the park's major music events and concerts, including Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances, are held. Patrons can see the shows in a traditional concert setting in an open-air theater with state-of-the-art sound, video and lighting equipment or choose to sit in the lawn area and listen to the music while picnicking.
- The Martin Theatre, an 850-seat indoor hall often used for chamber music, semi-staged opera performances, Martinis at the Martin cabaret series, and other intimate shows.
- Bennett Gordon Hall, the 450-seat home of the Steans Institute for Young Artists, Rising Stars series, also used for pre-concert discussions and preview concerts. The Steans Institute for Young Artists is the Ravinia Festival's professional studies program for young musicians. Three programs comprise the Institute's summer season: the program for jazz; the classical programs for piano and strings and for singers. In each of the programs, young artists study with an internationally renowned faculty of artist/teachers, participate in concerts given as part of Ravinia's summer programming and attend Ravinia concerts. Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute is a chamber ensemble whose members are selected each year from the most promising musicians to attend the Institute’s summer session at Ravinia. They perform on tour with program director Miriam Fried. The repertoire for each tour varies but always includes three or four works for piano and strings. The tour, designed to bring the musical richness of Ravinia to a wider audience, presents formal concerts as well as educational outreach programs for schools and community organizations. Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Institute have appeared at such prestigious venues as Boston’s Gardner Museum, the Library of Congress, Miami’s Friends of Chamber Music series and New York’s Town Hall, in addition to performances each year on the Ravinia Festival’s Rising Stars series.
In 1904, the A.C. Frost Company created Ravinia as an amusement park intended to lure riders to the fledgling Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railroad. The amusement park boasted a baseball diamond, electric fountain and refectory or casino building with dining rooms and a dance floor. The prairie-style Martin Theatre (then called Ravinia Theatre) is the only building on the grounds that dates back to that original construction. When the park's existence became jeopardized following the railroad's bankruptcy, local residents (for the most part Chicago businessmen) formed a corporation in 1911 to purchase and operate the park. Music was a confirmed summer activity from then on, except for a brief hiatus during the Depression.
Over 100 years later, Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival in North America and is lauded for presenting world-class music. The festival attracts about 600,000 listeners to some 120 to 150 events that span all genres from classical music to jazz to music theater over each three-month summer season. Over the years, the festival has hosted such luminaries as Louis Armstrong, Joan Baez, Anita Baker, The Ballet Russe, The Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, George Benson, Luciano Berio, Leonard Bernstein, Lucrezia Bori, Dave Brubeck, Sandip Burman, Montserrat Caballé, Glen Campbell, Pablo Casals, Chicago, Van Cliburn, Joe Cocker, Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Aaron Copland, Bill Cosby, Elvis Costello, Deep Purple, Plácido Domingo, Doobie Brothers, Jackie Evancho, Horacio Gutierrez, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Dorothy Dandridge, Duran Duran, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Roberta Flack, Ella Fitzgerald, Renée Fleming, Aretha Franklin, George Gershwin, Jose Greco, Buddy Guy, Hall & Oates, Marvin Hamlisch, Herbie Hancock, Isaac Hayes, Jascha Heifetz, John Houseman, Jennifer Hudson, Janis Joplin, The Judds, Gladys Knight, Diana Krall, Chaka Khan, Lyle Lovett, Patti LuPone, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Yo-Yo Ma, Maroon 5, Sarah McLachlan, Melanie Safka, Idina Menzel, Joni Mitchell, Moody Blues, Willie Nelson, Aaron Neville, Mandy Patinkin, Luciano Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman, Peter, Paul & Mary, Robert Plant, Bernadette Peters, Oscar Peterson, Bonnie Raitt, David Sanborn, Beverly Sills, Stephen Sondheim, Steely Dan, Isaac Stern, Sting, Elaine Stritch, Donna Summer, James Taylor, Train, Carrie Underwood, Sarah Vaughan, War, Rufus Wainwright, Clara Ward, Orson Welles, Frank Zappa and Denis Matsuev.
The Festival includes symphony concerts, often with guest soloists, as well as opera, jazz, blues, folk, and rock performances, plus ballet, drama, and educational programs which take place year-round.
For most attendees Ravinia is experienced on the 36 acre (150,000 m²) parkland and lawn. The unique setting allows for open seating and picnicking, where families and attendees can choose to use as much (or little) space as they need, with a powerful sound system broadcasting the live performance throughout the park. Most attendees choose to bring complete picnics and dinners to shows, with various lawn chairs, coolers full of food, blankets, candles, and lawn accessories in tow. Ravinia is one of the few concert venues in the country to allow full meals to be brought in and consumed at concerts, even allowing alcoholic beverages and bottles of wine. Accordingly, most grocery stores and specialty restaurants in and around the Highland Park area offer ready-to-eat "Ravinia picnics" for purchase.
Once at the park, visitors can eat, listen to music and visit the Ravinia Gift Shop.
The park is served by the Metra commuter railroad station Ravinia Park outside the front gate with special stops before and after concerts. Visitors get dropped off and picked up right at the front gate. Attendance often tops 600,000 annually.
Education and community partnerships
Ravinia’s education and community partnership programs connect music to thousands of families around Chicago through multi-tiered initiatives including teaming working musicians with teachers to integrate music into the public schools, running a community music conservatory in Lawndale, the Opportunity Lawn Pass Program and the One Score, One Chicago program. The Music Performance initiative allows professional musicians to work as mentors within the classroom, focusing on specific instruments to demonstrate standards for playing classical and jazz music. These role models strive to develop students’ self-esteem and increase their access to the cultural riches of the music world. This program is currently offered in 10 Chicago Public High Schools. The Music Discovery program targets children in kindergarten through third grade. This arts-integrated program sends accomplished teaching artists into classrooms for a 15-week period during which they introduce students to the magic of music, again complementing classroom curriculum. At the end of the school year, children from the Music Illumination and Music Discovery programs are brought to Ravinia to perform for each other and picnic together during “Ravinia Days.”
While reaching out through the schools, Ravinia is also active in Chicago’s under-served communities, particularly Lawndale, a neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. The Ravinia Festival Lawndale Partnership helps community leaders and residents reinvest in the cultural health of their community through town meetings, conservatory classes and concerts. Currently in its 10th year partnership, the Ravinia Lawndale Community Music Conservatory currently offers free private lessons to more than 150 students in piano, violin, classical guitar and voice.
Stressing the importance of access, Ravinia’s Opportunity Lawn Pass Program is offered to organizations all across Chicago that serve those in need. Last year nearly 4,500 people attended jazz, pop, classical and kids concerts with free lawn passes provided through this program. In 2007 the Classical Invitations program allowed over 1,000 music students to attend classical concerts. Additionally, last year Ravinia donated over 50,000 lawn tickets to Chicago area libraries through the Words & Music Program with the Chicago Public Library, which in turn distributed them free to their patrons. One of the most widespread community projects is Four Score, For Chicago, (Originally One Score, One Chicago.) Every year four different musical masterpieces are selected for this project designed to initiate a community-wide discussion among music aficionados and neophytes alike. Concerts are performed at Ravinia, lectures are given at public libraries, and related programs are performed in the public schools. Ravinia also creates and distributes a resource guide that further illuminates the topic.
- Ravinia Music Festival's official website with schedules, tickets, and artist information
- Chicago Sun-Times' article on the Festival's Centennial
- Ravinia Festival Association Records at Newberry Library