The idea of linking Lincoln and Beethoven is not a new one, and in fact, several major Lincoln bicentennial concert celebrations have already done exactly that. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra marked the occasion back in February with the Beethoven Fifth Symphony and James Earl Jones narrating Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” a hard act to follow, unless you count the CSO’s previous performance of the piece narrated by then-Illinois-junior-senator-and-future-president, Barack Obama. Ravinia’s narrator for its Lincoln-themed gala benefit evening performance of the piece is superstar soprano Jessye Norman, a bizarre choice given that when Norman opens her mouth, the public expects her to sing, not speak, and when she does speak, she does so in a very stylized, unctuous and faux European manner rather than the Southern drawl of her roots (she was born and raised in rural Georgia). Perhaps Norman will sing an encore or two? We can only hope, as she has not sung here in years. The real draw of the evening, however, which will open with Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” will be a James Conlon-led performance of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony with a vocal quartet consisting of soprano Erin Wall, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey and bass Morris Robinson and—here’s the really exciting part—instead of engaging a substandard volunteer chorus to sing the finale as is commonly done at Ravina, the festival is splurging and the Chicago Symphony Chorus will sing the work in all of its glory as only that group can. (Dennis Polkow)
July 18, Ravinia Festival, Lake-Cook & Green Bay Roads, Highland Park, (847)266-5000, $10-$100, 7pm.
Dennis Polkow is an award-winning veteran journalist, critic, author, broadcaster and educator. He made his stage debut at age five, was a child art prodigy and began playing keyboards in clubs at the age of fourteen. He holds degrees in music theory, composition, religious studies and philosophy from DePaul University in Chicago. Polkow spent his early years performing and recording in rock and jazz bands while concertizing as a classical pianist, organist and harpsichordist and composing, arranging and producing for other artists. As a scholar, Polkow has published and lectured extensively and taught at several colleges and universities in various departments. As an actor, narrator and consultant, Polkow has been involved with numerous films, plays, broadcasts and documentaries. As a journalist, Polkow helped co-create the experiential Chicago Musicale and Spotlight, the award-winning tabloid arts and entertainment section of the Press Publications chain of newspapers, which he later edited. He also created and ran the nationally recognized journalism program at Oakton College and was faculty advisor to its award-winning student newspaper; many former students went on to major media careers, including Channel Awesome’s the Nostalgia Critic. Polkow’s research, interviews, features, reviews and commentaries have appeared across national and international media and he has corresponded from the Middle East, Asia and Africa for the Chicago Tribune. Contact: email@example.com