My husband and I chose to celebrate a special occasion at the Ravinia Festival. It was August and we had not been to Ravinia yet. The program, Goat Rodeo Consortium with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer, mandolinist Chris Thile, and fiddler Stuart Duncan, as well as singer Aoife O’Donovan was fantastic. It was an amazing “happening” evening.
It was a gorgeous evening, and as we entered the park we had not decided where to eat. There were so many choices. Finally, we decided in favor of purchasing food at the Ravinia Market and eating on the patio. It was a great decision. We enjoyed a wonderful salad from the market along with a few items we brought from home. Only Ravinia Market patrons are allowed to use the lovely patio.
After we finished eating there was quite a bit of time before the concert was to begin. We walked along observing the huge crowd and all the doings in the park.
There are stands where one can purchase food all over the park. There is a huge TV monitor where lawn patrons can “see” the stage. There was a contest for the most interesting Ravinia table being judged. There were the usual balloons to alert groups where to find one another and lots and lots of cheerful, bubbly people, everywhere.
Walking around, we happened to meet some friends. We talked for a while and before long it was time for the performance to begin. We took our seats and shortly four American string virtuosos walked onto the stage and began to play music that I kept trying, unsuccessfully, to categorize. Their styles and traditions actually create a new kind of chamber ensemble.
The Ravinia website stated, “With strong bluegrass influences in evidence, Goat Rodeo is a landmark performance by four of the greatest instrumentalists of today. While each musician is a renowned superstar in his own sphere, they have come together on a most remarkable and organic cross-genre project stemming from their friendship, and the title concept.”
The performance at Ravinia was the first of a short seven-city tour that ends in Berkeley, California on August 24th, 2013. The Goat Rodeo Sessions studio recording that was released in the autumn of 2011 topped both the bluegrass and classical charts in the U.S.
As I listened to the performers and watched them in action, my mind attempted to place the music in a category but except for two instances, a Bach piece (played with instruments other than what was called for) and a clearly Bluegrass piece, I just couldn’t. There were elements that were jazz-like and a move toward classical at times. Clearly bluegrass was strong. And then I had the problem of being unsure when a number was about to end so I didn’t clap at the wrong time.
As Yo Yo Ma held his ground, seated with his cello, playing music that leaned toward classical and smiling broadly, around him bassist, Edgar Meyer at one point played a mean piano, mandolinist, Chris Thile might be playing anything; a violin, a guitar or singing and almost dancing, and fiddler, Stuart Duncan when he wasn’t fiddling was playing a mandolin or guitar.
I found the voices of Chris Thile and Aoife O’Donovan a joy to listen to. Their singing was clear, strong, and mellow and blended perfectly with the string players.
The skill, energy, wit and good feelings this group shared with the audience were memorable. I was transfixed and left with a new and different appreciation for music. The audience was on its feet as the concert ended and was thrilled with the encore (which I could recognize) of “All Through the Night”. It was a beautiful ending. Ravinia proved a wonderful place for our celebration and though the outdoor season is moving toward closing the Martin Theatre continues to offer a wide range of excellent programming.
Photos: Barbara and Leon Keer