We are into the summer-festival season now—or rather, we would be, if it weren’t for a pandemic. Summer festivals and other entities are doing what they can to stay afloat. To live to fight another day, or another summer. On Saturday night, the Ravinia Festival held a “Living Room Lawn Party.” Normally, you can have your lawn party at Ravinia itself. But this time, you had to do it in your living room.
The party was a fundraiser, in addition to a party, and you can see it here. We are talking about a fundraising gala, online.
Even those who haven’t been there know what the Ravinia Festival is: the institution in Highland Park, Illinois, outside Chicago. Ravinia is the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It has been going since 1905. (The festival, that is. The orchestra has been going since 1891.)
Saturday night’s “lawn party” began with shots of the grounds themselves, the “park” itself. There was no one around, barely even a squirrel. It was eerie, as though there were a plague on or something.
Then there was music—a jazz piano, giving us some Cole Porter. The pianist turned out to be another Cole, Kevin Cole, playing on Ravinia’s main stage—all by his lonesome. He was peppy, though.
The show then went to Kristin Chenoweth, the Broadway star, who sang a sweet song from The Music Man: “Till There Was You.” She looked adorable, as always, in a smart top and jeans. She was the emcee of the show—the party, the fundraiser. She did a very good job. Her speech is redolent of her native state, Oklahoma.
She read from a script that had plenty of humor—including some joking about cicadas, those loud-mouthed insects that sometimes deafen Ravinia’s air. There was one serious line, however, that has haunted me a bit: “the global health crisis that has silenced our summer.”
Lots of summers are silenced, ’round the world.
Offering some more jazz piano was Ramsey Lewis, going strong in his mid-eighties. He played a piece of his called “Blessings.” In one passage, which recurs, it reminded me of “Who Cares?,” the Gershwin song, in Gershwin’s own arrangement for solo piano.
Lewis was followed by another jazzman, Marquis Hill, a trumpeter—and an alumnus of a Ravinia program. He played a tune taught to him at Ravinia, by the late Willie Pickens. I mean, Pickens taught him the song—which was composed by Jimmy Van Heusen in the late 1930s: “Darn That Dream.”
Patricia Racette, the formidable soprano from New England, performed some cabaret: “Mon Dieu,” the Edith Piaf song. She has a penchant for cabaret, as for other music.
Many of us associate the Ravinia Festival with classical music, not least because of the CSO recordings that have emerged from Ravinia down through the generations. Was there any classical music at all during this gala? Yes, courtesy of Michelle DeYoung, the mezzo-soprano. She sang the “Liebestod” (from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde) and “Cäcilie” (that wonderful outburst of a Richard Strauss song).
Before it was all over, Kristin Chenoweth sang a fun number by Mary-Mitchell Campbell: “The Millennial Song.” It includes the kind of abbreviations you find in text messages.
Welz Kauffman is the president and CEO of the Ravinia Festival. He and others are obviously doing their best to bridge over this strange and (largely) silent time. The summer of ’21 can’t come soon enough, and if cicadas are Ravinia’s biggest concern next year, fabulous.