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Boyz II Men with Isley Brothers, women composers with the CSO – Chicago Tribune

Northern Chicagoland’s biggest summer festival is back — and how.

Ravinia Festival on Thursday unveiled an especially broad and star-studded 2023 season, featuring several high-profile debuts and the return of the weekend-long Breaking Barriers Festival of classical music (July 21-23), steered and curated by conductor Marin Alsop.

Each year, the festival focuses on an underrepresented demographic in the classical music world. Last year’s inaugural Breaking Barriers championed women conductors; this year, it’s women composers and songwriters, spotlighting Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade (July 22) and composer and bandleader Maria Schneider (July 23) in addition to the CSO’s opening program.

“I didn’t really go into (Breaking Barriers) with a long-term vision for it. But it was so successful last year, and particularly for our industry, it was really impactful and moving. This felt like a natural next step,” Alsop says.

Much like last year’s format, this year’s Breaking Barriers Festival invites both high-profile names — CSO programs throughout the season include works by Tania León, Shulamit Ran, Augusta Read Thomas, Gabriela Ortiz, Reena Esmail and Gabriela Montero, many of whom will be present for the weekend — and up-and-comers. Ravinia will issue a call for scores; the three winners will workshop their pieces on-site with Taki Alsop Conducting Fellows, the career development program founded by Alsop.

Boyz II Men performs in 2022, during Musikfest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Other classical series highlights include the first National Seminario Ravinia (July 5-8), gathering 100-plus young people from music education programs across the U.S. and Canada and culminating in a side-by-side concert with the Chicago Philharmonic; a Ravinia iteration of Alsop’s Global Ode to Joy project (July 14), pairing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with a companion piece (Reena Esmail’s “See Me”) and interludes by a jazz trio and West African drumming ensemble; and the return of Mozart in the Martin with “The Magic Flute,” this time conducted by Alsop (Aug. 4 and 6).

This year’s festival is also a testing ground for initiatives by classical eminences. Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Great American Songbook singer/pianist Michael Feinstein present their recently announced duo project in the Martin Theatre (June 14). Later, soprano Nicole Cabell and Lara Downes perform songs by Billie Holiday, Florence Price, Missy Mazzoli, Clarice Assad and Debbie Friedman on a single evening in Bennett Gordon Hall (Aug. 22).

Some pop programming has already been teased by the festival debut in recent months, with major additions unveiled in Thursday’s announcement. Boyz II Men and The Isley Brothers both make their festival debuts, sharing a bill (Aug. 26). Some of the summer’s biggest acts are sticking around for two-night stays: Santana (June 30 and July 1), John Legend (Aug. 13 and 14) and Carrie Underwood (Sept. 1 and 2). And Lauryn Hill celebrates the 25th anniversary — yes, really — of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (June 17).

Carrie Underwood performs at the American Music Awards in 2022 in Los Angeles.

Though often overshadowed by the Pavilion, the Carousel hosts some of the summer’s can’t-miss shows: the Adrian Dunn Singers, whose evening-length “Emancipation” is streaming now on WTTW’s website (July 14); up-and-coming jazz pianist Alexis Lombre with Ravinia Jazz alumni (before Maria Schneider’s show July 23); folk titans Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite (Aug. 3); and the festival return of “Queen!”, Smartbar’s weekly house and disco party (Sept. 9).

When it comes to the Ravinia festival’s musical spread, Alsop singled out Ravinia CEO Jeff Haydon, now in his third year helming the festival, for special praise.

“He’s not handcuffed to tradition. He’s open. He’s a thinker. He’s a visionary. And he’s surrounded himself with like-minded people,” she says.

“When we sit down to talk, it’s never, ‘Oh, no, we can’t do that. We never did that.’ It’s always, ‘OK, what worked about this, and what can we take to build on it?’”

Jacob Collier and Lawrence (June 16)

Lauryn Hill (June 17)

Chicago (June 18)

Pat Metheny (June 20)

Counting Crows and Dashboard Confessional (June 23)

Charlie Puth (June 24)

Jesse & Joy (June 25)

Santana (June 30 and July 1)

Straight No Chaser and Ambrosia (July 2)

Ne-Yo (July 7)

National Seminario Ravinia concert with Chicago Philharmonic (July 8, free event)

John Fogerty and Hearty Har (July 9)

CSO and guests play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (July 14)

CSO and Miriam Fried (July 15)

Ravinia Gala with CSO, Heather Headley, and the Ravinia Lawndale Chorus (July 16)

CSO plays Gustav and Alma Mahler (July 19)

CSO with Gabriela Montero (July 21, Breaking Barriers Festival)

Natalia Lafourcade (July 22, Breaking Barriers Festival)

Maria Schneider (July 23, Breaking Barriers Festival)

Rebirth Brass Band (July 26)

CSO with Mei-Ann Chen and Jeremy Denk (July 28)

CSO salute to women singer/songwriters (July 29)

Laurie Berkner (July 30)

Jason Mraz and His SuperBand (Aug. 2)

CSO with Yunchan Lim (Aug. 5)

Boz Scaggs and Keb’ Mo (Aug. 6)

CSO with Jonathon Heyward and Benjamin Beilman (Aug. 9)

CSO with Teddy Abrams and Jeffrey Kahane (Aug. 10)

CSO with Rufus Wainwright (Aug. 11)

Blues Traveler and Big Head Todd & The Monsters (Aug. 12)

John Legend (Aug. 13 and 14)

CSO with Joshua Weilerstein and Alisa Weilerstein (Aug. 17)

Jethro Tull (Aug. 18)

Kenny Loggins and Yacht Rock Revue (Aug. 19)

CSO Tchaikovsky Spectacular (Aug. 20)

Buddy Guy and George Benson (Aug. 23)

Classic Albums Live: Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” (Aug. 25)

Boyz II Men and The Isley Brothers (Aug. 26)

“Encanto” in concert with the Chicago Philharmonic (Aug. 27)

“Jurassic Park” 30th anniversary with the Chicago Philharmonic (Aug. 29)

Train and Parmalee (Aug. 30)

Carrie Underwood (Sept. 1 and 2)

Shakti and Béla Fleck (Sept. 3)

Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project: Metamorphosis (Sept. 7)

Fiesta Ravinia with Reik (Sept. 10)

The Ravinia Festival 2023 season is June 6 to Sept. 10 at Lake Cook and Green Bay Roads, Highland Park; tickets go on sale to the public May 1,

Hannah Edgar is a freelance writer.

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