Ravinia gala raises over $1 million for music education programs

Unexpected performance changes didn't affect the success or the excitement at the 51st annual Ravinia Women's Board Gala on July 29. The evening featured the homecoming of former Ravinia Music Director James Conlon, who replaced originally scheduled conductor Christoph Eschenbach. Legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman also replaced pianist Lang Lang, who was unable to attend because of an injury. The event supported Ravinia Festival's Reach+Teach+Play education programs that bring music to underserved schools and communities.

Welz Kauffman, Ravinia Festival president and CEO, said, "There's something powerful about this place that magnetizes artists to want to be here. Mr. Perlman has not replaced anyone in any situation since 1965. Maestro Conlon had one week free in the entire year, and this was it."

Following a gala reception on Ravinia's grounds, Conlon led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with violinist Perlman, through a 90-minute performance in the Pavilion. Perlman performed his "Cinema Serenade," a collection of film-score compositions and arrangements by John Williams. This included the theme from "Schindler's List," which he played on the original film soundtrack. Antonín Dvorak's "Carnival Overture" and Symphony No. 8 were also included in the program. Conlon shared with the audience his joy over "coming back home."

"Last night happened to be, exactly to the day, the 40th anniversary of my debut with the CSO in Ravinia. On that night, we played Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, among other things, and that soloist for my debut was Itzhak Perlman," he said.

Throughout the performance, Perlman joked with the crowd of more than 8,600 who sat in the Pavilion and on the lawn. Before performing the theme song from the Ron Howard film "Far and Away," he said, "This next piece is dedicated to the people sitting on the lawn." This was Perlman's 60th appearance at Ravinia since his festival debut in 1966.

Other selections included "As Time Goes By" from "Casablanca," "Marian and Robin Love Theme" from "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and the tango "Por una cabeza," that was featured in the film "Scent of a Woman." Perlman received two standing ovations before departing the stage. The concert was performed in the memory of life trustee Howard A. Stotler and Keene H. Addington II.

Over 700 gala-goers then made their way to a 16,000-square-foot tent for dinner and a short program. Elegant decor by Event Creative featured pale shades of peach and gray, and tables topped with hibiscus flowers surrounded by votive candles. As guests dined under a geometric light pattern that was projected across the ceiling, alumni from Ravinia's Jazz Scholars program performed.

Co-chaired by Gloria Reisner and Marilyn Vender, and led by Women's Board chair Judy Castellini, the event raised over $1 million for the nonprofit's Reach+Teach+Play programs that bring school-based music education and community initiatives to over 85,000 people. This includes starting and maintaining elementary school orchestras in budget-strapped Chicago Public Schools and Lake County schools with Ravinia supplying teachers, instruments and other needs.

Freelance writer Candace Jordan is involved with many local organizations, including some whose events she covers.

More coverage: Find more photos and events at www.chicagotribune.com/candidcandace. Visit Candid Candace's website at www.candidcandace.com, or follow her on Twitter @CandidCandace.

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