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®.
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.
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 physical facilities