Music of the Baroque marking pavilion debut at Ravinia with celebration of Haydn, Bach

By Kyle MacMillan, Chicago Sun-Times
August 26, 2022

Music of the Baroque has presented hundreds of concerts in downtown Chicago and elsewhere across the city during its 52-year history, but it has only ever performed one time at the Ravinia Festival, and that was nine years ago.

To at least partially rectify the Chicago chamber orchestra’s absence from the Ravinia lineup, the group will present its first-ever concert in the festival’s 3,350-seat open-air pavilion on Sept. 3.

“Of course, we’re thrilled to be going to Ravinia and on the main stage, too — that’s fabulous,” said Jane Glover, who will begin her 20th season as Music of the Baroque’s music director with this appearance.

One of the initiatives of Jeffrey Haydon, who took over as president and chief executive officer of the Ravinia Festival in 2020, is to bring more top-level Chicago-area groups to the series, and he believes Music of the Baroque fits the bill.
“Obviously, we’re an international music festival,” he said, “and we’re bringing artists from over the country and all over the world, and that will continue to happen. But we also have international-quality music that takes place in Chicago, and just because it’s local doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.”

At the same time, he said, the relaxed atmosphere at Ravinia is ideal to present audiences with new styles or periods of music with which they might not be familiar, like the sounds of the 17th and 18th centuries in which Music of the Baroque specializes.

He’s confident that listeners who give Music of the Baroque a chance will like what they hear.

“If you close your eyes and listen to the harpsichord,” he said, “and translate that into electric guitar, it’s actually pretty close. A lot of these harpsichord parts are pretty rock-ish. It’s pretty remarkable how exciting baroque music is.”

In choosing the repertoire for this concert, Glover took into account the outdoor setting, where it can be tough for certain small-scale or quieter works to register.

“We’re not going to play delicate Purcell or Vivaldi, that sort of thing,” she said. “We’re doing the bigger stuff.”

She is sticking to the tried and true, presenting works by the four famed composers she sees as the pillars of Music of the Baroque’s repertoire — Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart.

The concert also will spotlight famed pianist Garrick Ohlsson, back for his 41st concert at Ravinia, first having performed at the festival in 1981. He will be the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, “Jeunehomme.”

While Ohlsson is an old friend of Glover and a regular at Ravinia, this will be his first time with Music of the Baroque.
“So we are thrilled that he is coming,” Glover said. “He’s got such delicacy as well as such great power, and I know his Mozart is glorious, and we’ve done quite a bit of it together elsewhere.”

Haydn wrote more than 100 symphonies, and this program kicks off with the less frequently heard Symphony No. 59 in A major, “Fire,” an audience-pleasing work that Glover described as having “great wit and energy.”

“Wherever you put the pin on the list of Haydn symphonies, you always come up with something spectacular,” she said.
After Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, the program concludes with Handel’s ever-popular “Music for the Royal Fireworks,” which was written for an outdoor setting like the one in which it will be performed.

“So it absolutely comes home, in a sense,” Glover said.
The Sept. 3 concert also marks the second appearance at the festival by Glover, adding a kind of encore to the Ravinia’s July 29-31 mini-festival, “Breaking Barriers: Women on the Podium.” She is one of more than 100 noted women conductors whose stories are featured in an outdoor display this summer on the Ravinia grounds.

The British conductor is marking two decades with Music of the Baroque and has no plans to leave any time soon.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said. “It’s a relationship that I value hugely. Every time I come to Chicago, I feel I’m sort of coming home musically.”

Music of Baroque’s return to Ravinia had been in discussions for several years, with a tentative idea that it might happen around the group’s 50th anniversary, but the COVID-19 shutdown made that impossible.

Conversations already are underway about future appearances at the festival, perhaps featuring more adventuresome repertoire.

“I hope,” Glover said, “this is the beginning of a lovely relationship.”