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Classical Notes

Ravinius Interruptus?

Posted at 9:45 AM on March 14, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

The latest noise scourge of the classical concert isn't cell phones, nor a swarm of locusts -- though that's getting closer.

The Ravinia Music Festival has revised its summer concert schedule because of the buzz created by cicadas, known for their loud hum, and their 17-year life cycle which brings them back en masse and in force this June. Several outdoor concerts will move indoors, and the Chicago Symphony's Ravinia season is pushed back to July 6, by which time the chirping critters should cease. Otherwise, says Ravinia president Welz Kauffman, the subtleties of the music ‘would get completely lost and drowned out”

Ravinia is no stranger to noise. From the New York Times a few years ago:

The Ravinia Festival north of Chicago owes its very existence to the railroad tracks it straddles, and to their onetime owner, the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railroad, which opened Ravinia in 1904 as an amusement park to attract more passengers. Several decades and rail companies later, Ravinia was "where the Chicago Symphony spends the summer." It is said that James C. Petrillo, as president of the American Federation of Musicians, got the trains to stop while the great Heifetz fiddled. Other notables fared less well. The suave and witty maestro Thomas Beecham conducted the Chicago Symphony in the summer of 1940, and declared Ravinia "the only railway station with a resident orchestra." He never returned.

BTW, noise concerns over the return of the cicadas are no exaggeration. We had the 17-year cicadas in Cincinnati in 1987. At their peak, I noticed while house-cleaning that the cicadas were so loud you could hear them above the noise of the vacuum cleaner! Amazing creatures.