Chicago’s Ravinia Festival may abolish music director

Chicago’s Ravinia Festival may abolish music director


norman lebrecht

July 19, 2015

Chicago Classical Review reports exclusively that Ravinia president Welz Kauffman is floating the idea that the festival may go without a music director at all, for the first time in fifty years after James Conlon (pictured) finishes this summer.

Full story here.


conlon ravinia

Kauffmann, who’s on a $1,085,312 wage, has the Chicago Symphony playing movie scores instead of classical music. Soon, he won’t need much more than a metronome.


  • herrera says:

    “…the Chicago Symphony playing movie scores instead of classical music”

    Movies scores ARE classical music.

    One need not cite Prokofiev to know that if Tchaikovsky were alive today, he would certainly be writing for films, of course Mozart, no doubt Beethoven.

    Even the great popularizer, John Williams, his Star Wars will be played 100 years from now (already, Berlin and Vienna have played it), which is more than one can say about 99% of contemporary classical music written since the dawn of film music.

    • PaulD says:

      Further to your point, the Berlin Philharmonic will be playing Bernard Hermann’s music from “Psycho” in September.

    • Loved Tchaik's score for Dumb and Dumber says:

      That’s also more than one can say about 99% of film music

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      Copland, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and other great composers did write for films. However, perhaps the music they wrote for films is not their best work. Sure, today they would do it for money but its not obvious that writing background music for action films would bring out their best or that it is a suitable inspiration for composing great music. No doubt Williams has composed some great themes. But I wouldn’t be so sure that they will be played 100 years from now. When I was growing up in LA, pops concerts featured the film music of Henry Mancini. Is it played now? Well, maybe in Berlin…

    • CDH says:

      I’ve been to a concert where John Williams movie music, including Star Wars, was played by the orchestra. While I find it and many other film scores very appealing and very effective in context, I found that they did not stand up as orchestral pieces — without the film they were underscoring and complementing, they seemed slight. We did not stay after the interval.

      Even the highly regarded (or at least frequently recorded, and by top players) violin piece from Schindler’s list, haunting and moving though it is as a theme to a powerful film, seems very repetitive and insubstantial as a standalone solo on the concert stage. I do not denigrate film music in any particular — it is a wonderful genre and a wonderful repertoire — but it has produced relatively few pieces that really belong in an orchestral concert.

    • Anne says:

      “Movies scores ARE classical music.”

      Good, the argument is setted then.

  • Alvaro says:

    Last I checked the Berliner also Played movie scores.

    Who plays “classical music” anymore?

  • Pamela Brown says:

    CSO is playing “Gladiator” August 4th…that is a gorgeous score…

  • Yi-Peng LI says:

    I sometimes wish that film scores WEREN’T classical music even though they are written for the classical orchestra. They were born in the ecosystem of the popular entertainment media. Yet I understand that orchestras need to play them or else they’ll go bust.

    Might this set a dangerous precedent for the future if there were no music director?

  • C. Squarcialupi says:

    Welz Kauffman is a brilliant guy. He has held artistic positions with the Atlanta Symphony, New York Philharmonic and St.Paul Chamber Orchestra. He is certainly capable of being the artistic brain of Ravinia. And he can hire the conductors that make the most sense for the repertoire he is presenting. It makes perfect sense for him to proceed as described.

  • VT says:

    Kaufman has reduced the number of Classical concerts to their contract required minimum and hired a non-descript music director (Conlon) without consulting the CSO. He needs to go.

    • Alvaro Mendizabal says:

      If the strategy is working and bringing more $$ so that the orchestra can continue to commission pieces and present less profitable repertoire during the main season, he needs a promotion.

  • Dave T says:

    Attended a concert at Ravinia, it was during the “artistic highpoint of the festival.” My skin was assaulted by mosquitoes, my nose by insect repellant, and my ears by the clanging of chardonnay-filed flutes.

    I have not been back.

    No big loss.