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Two major summer music festivals set to reopen

Ravinia opens July 1, and Grant Park on July 2

Grant Park 2021 image
A unique collaboration among the Grant Park Orchestral Association, the Chicago Park District and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Grant Park Music Festival performs under the baton of Director & Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar. Photo credit: Patrick Pyszka.

Plan your picnics and prepare for the return of music under the stars! After a year's hiatus, both the Grant Park Music Festival in Millennium Park and Highland Park's Ravinia Festival are re-opening this summer, with safety protocols and other adjustments in place.  


Carlos Kalmar (born in Uruguay, the son of Austrian Jewish parents) has been Principal Conductor of the Grant Park Orchestra since 2000, and its Artistic Director since 2011. Asked to explain some of the changes made for this summer's return, he said: 

"We will have what I would describe as 'a slightly reduced romantic orchestra'-one that can be spread out on the stage of the Pritzker Pavilion, with a string section of about 12 first violins, 10 violas, eight cellos and six double basses, along with fewer winds and brass than usual, plus timpani and percussion," Kalmar said. "The size of the chorus also will be reduced, although there are now even some newly-devised masks with velcro-adjustable openings created specially for singers and wind players." 

Opening night is July 2. 

"I think musicians are just very hungry to return to playing for an audience," Kalmar added, noting that his audiences also will be at reduced capacity. "Being able to start back up by playing outdoors is a plus. We felt so badly when last summer's plans for presenting several world premieres did not happen, but those works have been postponed until 2022. In the meantime, we have made a tiny shift to playing some more well-known works-although the truth is, the taste of the Grant Park audience goes in many different directions, and in any one concert you might hear the conventional rep as well as a piece that makes you ask 'What is this?'" 

Each concert will run about 90 minutes with no intermission. 

Among the more familiar pieces this season will be: Dvorak's  New World Symphony , Rossini's  William Tell Overture , Debussy's  Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun , Saint-Saens'  Carnival of the Animals , Samuel Barber's  Adagio for Strings , Brahms'  Symphony No. 3 , Bruckner's  Mass in E Minor , and Schubert's  Mass in G Major . In addition, there will be the world premiere of  L.E.S. Character , by Jessie Montgomery, who was recently named the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Mead Composer-in-Residence. The traditional Independence Day and Classic Broadway programs also will be part of the mix. And closing out the season will be a concert featuring Vadim Gluzman, the Israeli violinist (and artistic director of the North Shore Chamber Music Festival) playing Mozart's  Violin Concerto No. 3

As always, admission to the Festival will be free, although those become member will have assured seating. Most crucially, all who wish to attend the concerts must reserve tickets in advance and arrive masked. For a complete schedule and other information visit: or call (312) 742-7647.  


The Ravinia Festival returns on July 1 under the new leadership of Jeffrey P. Haydon (former President and CEO of New York's Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts), who has spent much of the past year consulting with Welz Kauffman, whose long tenure in the job sadly ended with the pandemic closure. In addition, Marin Alsop, a familiar presence, has been named the Festival's Chief Conductor and Curator. 

Only the open-air Pavilion and lawn will be utilized this summer, and the Festival will abide by all the familiar social distancing protocols, with masks required other than when eating. Picnics will be permitted. Ensembles will be limited to about 50 people on stage.  

"Before I arrived, Welz had moved much of the season planned for 2020 to 2021, but there was still a lot of work to be done, with Marin very involved," Haydon said. "I wanted to reach out and collaborate with many Chicago arts organizations after a very rough year. "Of course, the CSO, our resident orchestra, is returning with a wide variety of programming. We're also bringing the Joffrey Ballet back for one night because I want to make dance come alive again at Ravinia. And we'll have performances by the Chicago Sinfonietta, a fantastic organization."  

Max Raimi-- a violist with the CSO since 1987-- as well as a composer, is delighted about the orchestra's return to Ravinia, and is particularly enthusiastic about two works to be played this summer. 

"One is [Evanston-based composer] Stacy Garrop's  The Battle for the Ballot , about the 19th Amendment and women's suffrage, which has a real lyricism and emotional directness," Raimi said. The piece is part of a July 10 "CSO: Celebrating America" program. The other is Mahler's  Symphony No. 4 ` for soprano and orchestra, set for July 22, a work Raimi described as "among the greatest of the composer's symphonies-very intimate rather than for a huge orchestra, with a set of heartbreaking variations in the slow movement, and with a deceptively naive, simple song at the end." 

Also on the docket of more than 60 programs (with video screens perched in the Pavilion and on the South Lawn), is Jazz at Lincoln Center led by Wynton Marsalis; a Broadway Today program with the CSO and vocalists; an evening of "tunes and tall tales" featuring actor Alan Cumming and NPR host Ari Shapiro; concerts by Willie Nelson & Family, Gladys Knight, Judy Collins, The Beach Boys; and a celebration of reggae master Bob Marley by his son, Ziggy. Jewish performers will include violinists Pinchas Zuckerman and Joshua Bell, and pianist Michael Feinstein.

The Festival's July 19 gala will feature Cynthia Erivo, the Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award-winning actress acclaimed for her performance in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple and for her film portrayal of the abolitionist Harriet Tubman. 

For Ravinia's full schedule, visit For tickets, which go on sale beginning June 16, call (847) 266-5100. 


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