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Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

On July 3, 1936, Ernest Ansermet and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra inaugurated the first season of the Ravinia Festival* with a program that included Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Clouds and Festivals from Debussy’s Nocturnes, and Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird.

“Three days ago the last seat in the pavilion was sold. The audience was socially brilliant and musically responsive, so that a full-length Beethoven symphony and the most sonorous of the preludes which Wagner wrote for any of his music-dramas evoked a veritable tumult of applause,” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Herald & Examiner following that first concert. “For the next five weeks the Chicago Symphony will continue the season begun last night, playing on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings and offering programs quite as serious as those presented in Orchestra Hall during the winter season.”

July 3, 1936

July 3, 1936

Several notable conductors made their Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts at the Ravinia Festival, including future music directors Riccardo Muti, Georg Solti, Jean Martinon, Fritz Reiner, and Artur Rodzinski; future festival music directors James Conlon, Christoph Eschenbach, James Levine, and Seiji Ozawa; and prominent guest conductors Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Josef Krips, Erich Leinsdorf, Kurt Masur, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, George Szell, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

“I look around at the beauty of the park, the acoustics and proportion of the Pavilion . . . and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in residence,” commented James Levine in the 1985 book Ravinia: The Festival at Its Half Century. “Look at how these people work during the Festival weeks—putting on performances of difficult music under extreme weather conditions sufficiently well to be worthy of recording, finishing one concert and getting up the next morning to rehearse for another. . . . Most of the people around Ravinia seem to find a rejuvenation synonymous with summer from the change of pace, the change of style, the challenge of new repertoire, and the opportunity to work from a different vantage point. It’s that kind of thinking, that buoyant spirit, which has been prevalent throughout the unique history of Ravinia. And it’s that spirit which makes Ravinia truly magical!”

*Ravinia Park had opened on August 15, 1904, and Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first performed at the park’s theater on November 20, 1905. The Orchestra appeared there semiregularly through August 1931, after which the park was closed for most of the Great Depression.

This article also appears here.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of Kurt Masur, a frequent guest conductor for thirty years, from 1981 until 2011. Masur died on December 19, 2015, in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was 88.

Kurt Masur

Numerous tributes and obituaries have been posted online, including the websites of the New York PhilharmonicThe New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune.

Masur made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in 1981, and he most recently guest conducted at Orchestra Hall in 2011. A complete list of his appearances with the Orchestra is below (subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

August 13, 1981 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15
Jean-Bernard Pommier, piano
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)

August 15, 1981 (Ravinia Festival)
MOZART Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525
MOZART Andante for Flute in C Major, K. 315
Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute
MOZART Rondo for Flute in D Major, K. Anh. 184
Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute
MOZART Flute Concerto No. 2 in D Major, K. 314
Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64

July 8, 1982 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
André-Michel Schub, piano
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

July 10, 1982 (Ravinia Festival)
GLINKA Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)

July 26, 1984 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Selections from Egmont, Op. 84
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Werner Klemperer, narrator
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

July 28, 1984 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Overture to Fidelio, Op. 72
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major
Dmitry Sitkovetsky, violin
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67

July 29, 1984 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Choral Fantasy in C Minor, Op. 80
Menahem Pressler, piano
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Benita Valente, soprano
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Jacque Trussel, tenor
John Cheek, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 6, 7 & 8, 1984
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10
Annerose Schmidt, piano
MATTHUS Piano Concerto
Annerose Schmidt, piano
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88

August 1, 1985 (Ravinia Festival)
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
BRAHMS Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73

August 3, 1985 (Ravinia Festival)
BRAHMS Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
BRAHMS Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

June 9, 10 & 11, 1988
BRITTEN Simple Symphony, Op. 4
HAYDN Symphony No. 85 in B-flat Major (La Reine)
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 5, Op. 47

February 7, 8, 10 & 12, 1991
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 (Classical)
HINDEMITH Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass, Op. 50
MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56 (Scottish)

November 20, 21 & 22, 2003
GLINKA Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla
SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77
Vadim Repin, violin
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

March 31 & April 2, 2011
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
Louis Lortie, piano
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major

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