Just in: Ravinia goes headless

Welz Kauffmann is stepping down next summer after 20 years as CEO.

He’s 58, with one more job in him.

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  • Good – not impressed with the leadership. I’ve heard it said classical music is dying – certainly seemed to be the case over Kauffmann’s years at Ravinia. Fewer and fewer people at CSO concerts – they can’t give tickets away. Gone are the days when a concert and picnic was a “must do” every summer for many area residents.

    • Indeed. While Ravinia continues to be the summer home of the CSO, classical music there has been marginalized to the point of being a side offering for a steady stream of Boomer generation rock concerts (which pay the bills).

      While I appreciate that there are good chamber music concerts and that the Steans Institute for younger musicians continues to thrive, the CSO is no longer the focus of this 100 year old music festival.

      • I had the pleasure of conducting one of those “good chamber music concerts” at the Martin Theatre, this past June. Welz Kauffman, and his entire staff, were the epitome of professionalism in working with us, always making sure that we were comfortable, and the young singers with whom he supplied us from the Steans Institute for Bernstein’s “Songfest” were absolutely world-class. Ravinia remains a great, international festival. It was a privilege to work there.

  • Kauffmann leadership was certainly no boon for the CSO (his real passion is clearly Broadway), but the real culprit in Ravinia’s decline as a classical music venue was his predecessor, Zarin Mehta. He made two catastrophic decisions. The first was a renovation, essentially a reconstruction of the pavilion. The acoustics are absolutely horrible, which they try to ameliorate with brutal amplification. It is a sensory assault to sit in the pavilion; if I am off a piece that is being rehearsed, I typically stay in the dressing room or take a walk to avoid it.

    The second was replacing James Levine with Christoph Eschenbach as Music Director. Maestro Eschenbach is a fine human being and a sensitive musician, but he has two significant weaknesses. His baton technique is not at all clear and he is spectacularly inefficient in his use of rehearsal time. When you are trying to rehearse and perform three different programs in a single week, which Ravinia often requires, these are fatal flaws, and the quality of performances suffered a precipitous decline under his stewardship. Ravinia seemed shocked that they couldn’t command premium prices for mediocre concerts in miserably acoustics, and reacted by downgrading the CSO’s role in the festival.

    It is worth mentioning that Mehta made both these decisions without troubling himself to get a single particle of musicians’ input. I have experienced wide degrees of competence in the administrations I have played under, but I have never encountered a leader who held orchestral musicians in such utter and palpable contempt as Zarin Mehta.

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