One chronic irritant for Ravinia Festival concertgoers is the rumble of the Metra train that stops at the nearby station at around 8:20 most nights. I've seen directors shrug their shoulders or look around in exasperation, and in 1940 a piqued Thomas Beecham remarked that Ravinia was "the only railway station with a resident symphony orchestra." Almost two years ago, in anticipation of the park's centennial in 2004, Ravinia honcho Welz Kauffman decided to turn this liability into an asset: each summer the festival would commission a new piece to celebrate the railroad, encouraging composers to incorporate the noise into their work. The first piece, Chicagoan Ricardo Lorenz's En tren va Chango (Destination Macondo), premiered last year; the raucous, chugging, Latin-inflected music was timed to end just as the train pulled in, as though the orchestra were announcing its arrival. This year's entry is by Chicago Symphony Orchestra resident composer Augusta Read Thomas, best known for writing "Seahorse Symphony" to accompany the Shedd Aquarium exhibit; with Trainwork she intends to evoke a locomotive racing through a windy countryside, a task well served by her penchant for bold, energetic strokes and shimmering tone colors. Her piece, like Lorenz's, makes the most of Metra's relatively reliable schedule: in her words, it "ends with the force of a large fast train zooming by your body at full speed" right before the real McCoy shows up. Trainwork also spotlights the flute in a smattering of solo sections, which will be handled by the wonderfully agile and expressive Mathieu Dufour. The symphony on this program, Prokofiev's Fifth, was punctuated by a different sort of background noise at its premiere, in Moscow in January 1945: the first downbeat was delayed by an artillery salute celebrating a Russian victory over the German army. Ravinia music director Christoph Eschenbach will conduct the CSO; rounding out the bill is Tchaikovsky's ubiquitous Piano Concerto no. 1 (with Eschenbach discovery Kirill Gerstein as soloist). Friday, June 28, 7 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lionel Delevigne.