The iconic arch over the festival's main entrance bears the name Ravinia Opera.
History of Ravinia
Seiji Ozawa was named Ravinia's first music director in 1964. Four years later,
pianist Edward Gordon was appointed executive director, and the Festival began to
grow in new directions, including the creation in 1988 of a professional studies
division, the Steans Music Institute. Concert opera performances returned, and the
park facilities were extensively renovated in 1970, with a new stage floor designed
by legendary choreographer George Balanchine.
In 1971, James Levine, who first conducted at Ravinia as a last-minute replacement,
succeeded Ozawa as music director four years before becoming music director at the
Metropolitan Opera. Among his most memorable seasons was a summer in which he programmed
all of Mahler's symphonies. He headed Ravinia until 1993, helping Gordon, and later,
Zarin Mehta to transform Ravinia into a festival in the fullest sense of the word.
Mehta, former general manager of the Montreal Symphony, was named executive director
in 1990 and later became president and CEO of Ravinia Festival.
Welz Kauffman, President and CEO
Internationally acclaimed conductor and pianist Christoph Eschenbach was named Ravinia's
third music director in 1994 and served in that capacity through 2003, helping to
shape the summer's programming in addition to conducting and performing at Ravinia.
Eschenbach became an active mentor, teaching master classes at the Steans Music
Institute and leading many young artists to their solo debuts with the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra. Welz Kauffman was named president and
CEO of Ravinia Festival in October 2000. Building on a career as an arts administrator
for major organizations from coast to coast, Kauffman quickly established himself
as an innovator able to bring to Ravinia ambitious music rarely heard in a festival
setting, including numerous premieres and commissions. He established a pipeline
from Chicago's enormous talent pool to the stages of Ravinia and forged new relationships
with the area's major arts organizations. As architect of Ravinia's lauded music
theater initiative, Kauffman sought to recognize the talent of composers who have
contributed to this uniquely American art form. From the beginning, the music theater
initiative touched every aspect of the Festival by expanding Ravinia's community
outreach efforts; creating a new music theater branch of the Steans Music Institute;
and focusing on the vital role of the orchestra in music theater through the Sondheim
75 series. He also introduced the cabaret series Martinis at the Martin: The Great
American Songbook, which celebrates America's masters of popular song.
James Conlon, Music Director
American-born conductor James Conlon was named music
director designate for the 2004 season and became the Festival's fourth music director
in 2005. Conlon has enjoyed a long relationship with the Festival, where he has
been a guest artist since the 1970s.
Heading into its second century, Ravinia has identified community outreach and education
initiatives as a key mission. The Festival runs its acclaimed programs in 24 inner-city
schools throughout Chicago and will soon move into other under served areas. In
2003, Kauffman launched One Score, One Chicago, based on One Book, One Chicago
as a means of generating community-wide interest in classical music. Ravinia remains
a testimony to those who founded and sustained it. With the help of those people
and organizations that have generously supported it, Ravinia has become a destination
not only for the greatest artists from George Gershwin to Louis Armstrong to Yo-Yo
Ma, but also for loyal audiences that enjoy the sounds of summer, here, year after
Ramsey Lewis, Artistic Director of Jazz
During Mehta's 10-year tenure, he pioneered the jazz festival-within-the-festival
with Ramsey Lewis serving as artistic director of
jazz at Ravinia. He introduced a world music series, and an off-season showcase
for "Rising Stars." He also oversaw the 1994-95 refurbishment of the Festival's