CSO’s The Firebird Review – Helping to Celebrate the CSO’s 80 Years at Ravina

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 125th year but also the 80th anniversary of its residency at Ravinia.  Special events include major premiers: Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto, The Planets—an HD Odyssey, a new staging of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, and James Cameron’s Titanic with live orchestra, plus the return of James Levine.


Enjoying a perfect night at Ravinia

Summer never seems quite complete without at least one visit to Ravinia and, with any luck, many more.  When I heard the announcement of that the CSO would be performing Stravinsky’s Firebird at Ravinia, on Tuesday, July 26th, it became a must see.  Luck was with us, because it was a perfect summer night as we approached the park.  People were happily enjoying the picnics set up elaborately on tables with tablecloths, wine glasses and wonderful food.


With the sun beginning to set it was time to take our seats in the Pavilion.  This evening, Ben Gernon, who is a Professor of Musicianship at London’s Guildhall, conducted the CSO.  Claude Debussy’s La Mer began the program.  I have heard this countless times and each time I don’t want it to end.  Debussy was irresistibly drawn to the sea and almost became a sailor.  With close up views of the orchestra on the large monitors, it was very interesting to me to observe the inclusion of two harps in the instrumentation. I floated away on a serene sea until the storm arose.


Ben Gernon, Conductor


Moving from France to England and jumping forward in time the audience was treated to the familiar music of Benjamin Britten with the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes.  The sea here is more percussive and energized.  Again, the performance was perfection.


Mysterious and mulitipurpose


During the first half of the program, I wondered along with other audience members what was going to happen with regard to a large rather egg shaped object suspended from the ceiling in front of the orchestra.  Taking our seats we noted there was a firebird figure projected onto this object.  What was in it?  What would it do? We would soon find out and take with us one of the most amazing and memorable interpretations of Igor Stravinsy’s The Firebird that I could not possibly imagine. This was the Midwest premiere. I read about this and saw the video and even saw some of the puppets of the Handspring Puppet Company when I saw War Horse but there was no way to understand this without seeing it.




Note: About The Artist

"Janni Younge believes passionately in the power of puppetry. Although the centuries-old art form might seem passé in a world where video games and other online diversions are available in seconds, she believes it is even more needed than ever as a tangible antidote to such high-tech escapism. “People are relating to a very ancient instinct,” says the South African puppetmaker, “which is to enjoy the animation of an inanimate object. Particularly in contemporary puppetry, where you see the performers creating life in a thing that is clearly not alive, there is a kind of electricity that happens. We relate to it on a very primal level.”


Remarkable - puppets and people


Unraveling the mystery


This production is a completely new and reinterpreted The Firebird and tells about South Africa. Choegraphy by Jay Pather was compelling and powerful. The dancers were remarkable employing techniques that included modern ballet, modern dance, African dance and more.  The energy and technique were evident.  The music was the wonderful music we came to hear played perfectly.  There were visuals projected onto the “screen”.  But the puppets were amazing as were other effects used, such as fabric for bird’s wings.  The integration of dancers and puppet gear as well as the large life like puppet figures were thrilling.  This was a total multisensory experience and it was unforgettable.  Little did my husband and I realize when we set out for our Ravinia evening that it would be “a happening”.  Lucky us.




A fabulous Ravinia season remains ahead.  Check the Ravinia website.





Photos: Patrick Gipson / Ravinia


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