Abrams conducts the CSO and musical guests honoring Leonard Bernstein at Ravinia review-“Thinking Outside of the Box”

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On Saturday night, August 7, 2021, at The Ravinia Music Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Conductor Teddy Abrams, performed a delightful concert called “Unboxing Bernstein: A Live Revue”.

CSO “Unboxing Bernstein”; Conductor Teddy Abrams

Since 2019, all over the world musicians and music lovers have been celebrating the great and iconic Bernstein’s 100th birthday. Just because Covid shuttered musicians away from their shuttered audiences for the 2020-2021 season, it hasn’t stopped the anniversary “parties”.

Ravinia itself held an event called “The Music Box” the morning of the day before THIS concert. My dearest friend and mentor, Splash Owner/Publisher Barbara Keer attended and wrote it up HERE.

Maestro and Orchestra were joined by a number of Special Guest vocalists, dancers and the musical group/choir Vocality; Josephine Lee, artistic director.

CSO “UNBOXING BERNSTEIN”; the musical group ‘Vocality”

The ensemble en toto performed 16 pieces; 15 were crafted by Leonard Bernstein (he wrote the lyrics, composed the musical score, arranged the piece: designating the instrumentation, time signatures, scales, etc.). On only 2 of the 15 he utilized an “outside” arranger, “Mitchell”.

The one song NOT L.B.’s work “Thank You for the Big Heart” was written by his daughter, along with David Pack. There is a wonderful photo-(in the Ravinia 2021 magazine/program; the current season began July 24th and will conclude August 15th)- of the young Jamie singing a duet with Pack; she is crooning into a hand-held microphone while he is belting it out while playing electric guitar.

Jamie appeared on stage and spoke intimately and revealingly about her dad: no closed, sealed “Box” could hold his archive or the people who have performed it or the untold numbers who have listened to it-at concert venues, at the movies, or simply listening at home, whether by vinyl, radio, television, or by ordering one’s personal slave, (!) Alexa.

CSO “UNBOXING BERNSTEIN”; Tony Yazbeck,vocalist and dancer with vocalist Morgan James

Most of us will not live a century; Bernstein didn’t. Most of us will not be remembered for a century. Even the work of fine artists will not be appreciated during their lifetime. Think John Kennedy O’Toole, a local unknown student at Loyola’s Lakeshore campus, whose book “A Confederacy of Dunces” was published posthumously; he didn’t ever know the book won The Pulitzer Prize for Literature after his death.

CSO “UNBOXING BERNSTEIN”; vocalist Morgan James and Bryan James Mitchell, vocalist and Leonard Bernstein’s sometimes arranger, kissing

Leonard Bernstein’s Pandora’s Box has been opened again and again since it was built. in this concert alone, the selections came mostly from “On the Town”; “Wonderful Town”; “Candide”; and “West Side Story”– all blockbuster musicals in “their day”, in our own day-and will be in the days to come.


If we survive our politicians, pandemics, conspiracy theorists, terrorists, religious extremists, deniers, those with bully pulpits, spin doctors, self-publishing, self-promoting, social media, microbials, global warming, non-FDA approved medicines, “cures”, quacks, the politically correct woke who are apparently always awake but not working, pretenders and those who sit on thrones and most alarmingly, a global lack of tolerance, we can rejoice in the knowledge that Bernstein’s treasury box will grow and inspire for centuries more to come.

All photos courtesy of The Ravinia Festival/Patrick Gipson

Although the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brings its season to a close on August 15th, The Ravinia Music Festival continues through the summer and into the fall.






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