It has been seventy-five years since the Chicago Symphony Orchestra began its annual residency at the Ravinia Festival, an anniversary which is being celebrated throughout what is, ironically, one of the CSO’s most truncated at Ravinia. This week marks one of the first CSO Ravinia concerts of the summer, which sees the return of former Ravinia music director and new National Symphony Orchestra music director Christoph Eschenbach for a series of concerts.
2011 marks the bicentennial of Franz Liszt, which Ravinia is marking all season long but especially in this opening week, where both piano concertos are being presented: No. 1 on the CSO season opening itself (July 7) with soloist Lang Lang, and tonight’s performance of the Second Piano Concerto with soloist Andre Watts. The contrast could not be more extreme: whereas Lang Lang epitomizes the kind of empty virtuosity that many stereotype Liszt as also representing, Watts has always taken a more cerebral approach and has approached Liszt as the true innovator and revolutionary that he was and in the right hands such as those of Watts, can still be. In another cost-cutting move, segments of both concerts will consist of non-orchestral solo piano pieces featuring the soloists as well, sort of built-in and pre-programmed encores: Lang will be performing Chopin, Watts will be performing Liszt.
Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture will open tonight’s performance and Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” will close it out. (Dennis Polkow)
July 8, 8pm at Ravinia Festival, Lake-Cook & Green Bay Roads, Highland Park, (847)266-5100. $10-$70.