Marin Alsop has been named chief conductor and curator of the Ravinia Festival, effective with the 2020 season. The position was created specifically for Alsop, the first person to have the title in Ravinia’s 116-year history. Under the two-year appointment, she will conduct two weeks of concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including events celebrating legendary women and the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ravinia has been the CSO’s summer home since 1936.
“I’ve been involved in some extraordinary experiences at Ravinia and have felt a real connection to the audiences, trustees, Women’s Board and staff, and of course, there’s nothing like standing in front of the inimitable Chicago Symphony Orchestra,” said Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony. “I’m certain this appointment promises even more extraordinary experiences to come.”
Over the last two summers, Alsop has directed Ravinia’s multi-season celebration of the Leonard Bernstein centennial. As Bernstein’s final protégé, Alsop was particularly suited for her Ravinia curatorial role. At Ravinia, she conducted many Bernstein standards, including acclaimed performances of the composer’s rarely staged Mass. Performed in 2018 and 2019, the work was taped live at Ravinia to air as a national television special this summer.
The appointment was announced Feb. 5 by Welz Kauffman, Ravinia president and CSO. “Marin Alsop is a consummate musician, whose varied experience throughout the world, from São Paulo to California, from Baltimore to Vienna, is unsurpassed. The fact that she enjoys and excels in the standard repertoire, new work, jazz and musical theater makes her a perfect fit for Ravinia,” said Kauffman, who is stepping down after the 2020 season. “She gets everything that Ravinia is about: the tradition, the unique audience, the eclectic mix of music, the atmosphere and environment, the El Sistema approach to music education, our Ravinia family of volunteers, trustees and staff, and she is unfazed by the vagaries of working out of doors!”
Don Civgin, chairman of Ravinia’s board of trustees, said that Alsop will help guide Ravinia through a leadership transition. “In programming his final season at Ravinia, Welz advocated to create this role for Marin — a conductor of great global acclaim who also enjoys an intimate connection to Ravinia — to maintain consistency of the festival’s high artistic standards and creativity in booking the eclectic array of artists that Ravinia has proudly presented throughout its colorful history.”
Throughout this year’s 250th birthday celebration of Beethoven, in partnership with Carnegie Hall, Alsop will lead a “Global Ode to Joy,” conducting 11 orchestras on six continents in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, including a new interpretation of Schiller’s text in the last movement by Baltimore rapper Wordsmith. She is involved in music education, using an El Sistema-based method similar to what Ravinia uses for student orchestras in its Reach Teach Play programs.
Kauffman and Alsop share a long history. He was the first to book her to conduct the New York Philharmonic in 1999 and introduced her to Chicago audiences at Ravinia between 2002 and 2005, when she led the CSO in works by Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, excerpts from John Adams’ Nixon in China and John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1. Alsop will return to Orchestra Hall to lead the CSO in another centennial salute to women’s suffrage, featuring Julia Wolfe’s Her Story, in concerts Feb. 26-27, 2021.
Ravinia’s full season will be announced March 12. Its CSO programming already has been released; for details, click here.