Conlon's Cincinnati Experience to Benefit Ravinia
Byline: Bill Gowen
It's been a year since James Conlon was named music director designate of the Ravinia Festival; the "designate" is due to disappear from his title in 2005.
But Conlon will have plenty to do this summer during Ravinia's 100th anniversary season, when his several concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are interwoven with an equally busy schedule by Christoph Eschenbach, who wrapped up his music directorship last summer in order to move more fully into his job as the new music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Conlon, whose debut as a guest conductor at Ravinia dates back to 1977 (at the invitation of executive director Edward Gordon and music director James Levine) has been a regular visitor to Ravinia, appearing annually from 1977-90 and several times during the past decade as his time as general music director of Cologne (Germany) and principal conductor of the Paris National Opera allowed.
Conlon will be a driving force in Ravinia's "One Score, One Chicago" educational initiative, having selected Antonin Dvorak's "New World" Symphony as the work to be explored during this summer's second year of that project.
Last weekend, I made what has become an annual visit to the Cincinnati May Festival, the oldest choral festival in North America, where Conlon just celebrated his 25th anniversary as music director.
And judging from the performance I experienced of Gustav Mahler's Eighth Symphony (the "Symphony of a Thousand") last Saturday night, we have quite a lot to look forward to in the years ahead as Maestro Conlon, in collaboration with President and CEO Welz Kauffman, shapes the future of Ravinia.
To state that Conlon conducted a "knockout" performance of the mammoth Mahler work is an understatement. With eight vocal soloists, along with orchestral and choral forces numbering more than 400, this was a Mahler Eighth to treasure. There was splendid playing by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the May Festival Chorus (prepared by Robert Porco), along with the choruses of the Cincinnati College Conservatiory of Music, the Cincinnati Boychoir and Cincinnati Children's Choir (the latter two groups stationed in the lower balcony of historic Cincinnati Music Hall).
This is one of those pieces that require special attention by the conductor because of its complex and large-scale nature. …