American composers don't crop up all that often in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's subscription season, let alone at the mostly easy-listening Ravinia Festival. But next week they're well represented in back-to-back Ravinia concerts that spotlight a pair of early pioneers who steered classical music, if only a bit, from European dominance. Edward MacDowell, born in New York right after the Civil War, was a turn-of-the-century transitional figure. Though trained as a pianist in Paris, he soon gravitated toward German romanticism as a composer. His Second Piano Concerto, modeled after the styles of Liszt and Brahms, is extravagantly effusive, with enough double octaves and crashing chords to tax a virtuoso and dazzle an audience. Andre Watts will revive the neglected concerto--30 years after he premiered it at Ravinia. Hermann Michael, the German maestro familiar to fans of the Seattle Opera's Ring cycles, makes his first Ravinia appearance, conducting the CSO in the Tuesday program that also includes the local premiere of Variations on a Theme of Paganini by the Polish avant-gardist Witold Lutoslawski. Carl Ruggles, a near contemporary of MacDowell's, was one of the "American Five," an influential collective of innovative musicians. His orchestral suite Men and Mountains (the title refers to Blake) is a Yankee original in its brash, forthright spirit. It will be given its Ravinia debut on Wednesday, in another CSO program top-heavy with swoony German romanticism--Schumann's Symphony no. 1, Liszt's Second Piano Concerto, and Richard Strauss's Death and Transfiguration. Misha Dichter is the soloist in the concerto. Michael will conduct again on Wednesday. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 728-4642.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Zach Burris.