Is there a word that promises fun more than "festival?" We know. "Chocolate" is right up there, but stop being a distraction. Summer music festivals are a Chicago sonic mainstay, in a city that seems to have gone fest crazy of late. It used to be that it was just Lollapalooza, Blues Fest and Ravinia. But recently, everyone has raised their game, from Grant Park's classical music fest to Riot Fest, and all points in between. We asked our critics, Greg Kot, Howard Reich and John von Rhein, to lay out their summer of festival goodness.
Local classical music buffs get to hear world-class performances week after week at the area's "Big Two" summer fests, the Grant Park Music Festival in downtown Chicago, and the Ravinia Festival in north suburban Highland Park. That's not something you should take for granted.
- PHOTOS: Photos: Ravinia 2014 season
- PHOTOS: Photos: 2014 Riot Fest lineup
- PHOTOS: Photos: 2014 Lollapalooza lineup
100 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60602, USA
231 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park, IL 60035, USA
South Columbus Drive & East Jackson Drive, Chicago, IL 60603, USA
78 East Washington Street, Chicago, IL 60602, USA
1301 North Sacramento Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622, USA
South Cottage Grove Avenue & East 37th Street, Chicago, IL 60653, USA
1410 Museum Campus Drive, Chicago, IL 60605, USA
6615 West Roosevelt Road, Berwyn, IL 60402, USA
1501 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607, USA
To help you navigate the hot-weather bounty, we have singled out five events at each festival that look unusually promising from this distance. Go and enjoy!
Berlioz's "Romeo et Juliette": Complete performances of this strange and wonderful dramatic symphony are rare in Chicago, so these concerts, led by principal conductor Carlos Kalmar, are to be eagerly anticipated. June 13-14. Note that the venue has been shifted to the Auditorium Theater to avoid conflicting with the nearby Chicago Blues Festival.
Grant Park Chorus: The annual a cappella choral program by director Christopher Bell's remarkable ensemble once again includes intriguing 20th century repertory you don't get to hear very often. July 17 at South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive; and July 20 at Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd.
Leonard Slatkin: The festival's former principal conductor returns to lead contrasting rarities by Dmitri Shostakovich and the Dominican composer and pianist Michel Camilo. July 25-26.
National Youth Orchestra of the U.S.: David Robertson conducts the ensemble, which is made up of some of America's finest young instrumentalists, with the Illinois-born violin virtuoso Gil Shaham as soloist. July 28.
"The Legend of the Northern Lights": Inspired by a children's story about the origins of the aurora borealis, Christopher Theofanidis' symphonic work will be accompanied by a film by Jose Francisco Salgado that incorporates NASA and Canadian Space Agency images. World premiere. Aug. 8-9.
Susanna Malkki leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Amid the movie, Broadway and pops nights crowding the 78th CSO residency, this concert stands out. The highly regarded Finnish conductor will be making her Ravinia debut, and her soloist in a Tchaikovsky-Prokofiev program will be the superb violinist Midori, who joins the Ravinia Steans Music Institute faculty this summer. July 16.
Strauss' "Salome": The first of music director James Conlon's three operas with the CSO this summer should almost make up for the orchestra's relatively scant attention to Richard Strauss' 150th birthday anniversary during the winter season. Patricia Racette will sing her first Salome, with Egils Silins, Wolfgang Schmidt and Gabriele Schnaut in other leading roles. Aug. 2.
Chicago Pro Musica: The multi-talented Hershey Felder is back, this time as director, presiding over stagings of Stravinsky's wry fable "The Soldier's Tale" and a sequel, "The Devil's Tale," by composer James Stephenson. Aug. 5, Martin Theatre.
Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and "The Marriage of Figaro": There are few more alluring combo-pacs under the summer sun than Conlon, Mozart, the CSO and the intimate Martin Theatre. The casts are pretty alluring too. Christopher Maltman will portray the dissolute Don, with Tamara Wilson, Aga Mikolaj and Ailyn Perez as the women in Giovanni's life. The servants and their masters in "Figaro" include John Relyea, Lisette Oropesa, Soile Isokoski, Stephane Degout and Renee Rapier. Aug. 14 and 16 ("Giovanni"); Aug. 15 and 17 ("Figaro").
The Knights: The dynamic, Manhattan-based chamber orchestra returns to Ravinia with soloists Dawn Upshaw singing Maria Schneider's Grammy-winning "Winter Morning Walks" on the first program, cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing Strauss' "Don Quixote" on the second. Aug. 20, Martin Theatre; Aug. 21, Pavilion.
Grant Park Music Festival: Unless otherwise noted, all programs are by the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus and will take place at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street. Admission is free; 312-742-7638, grantparkmusicfestival.com
Ravinia Festival: Green Bay and Lake-Cook roads, Highland Park. Times and ticket prices vary; 847-266-5100, ravinia.org