First opened on August 15, 1904, Ravinia remains the oldest and most programmatically diverse music festival in North America, attracting about 600,000 guests to over 140 events each year.  These concerts run the gamut from Yo-Yo Ma to John Legend and hold an annual summer residency of the nation’s finest orchestra, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The 36-acre park is nestled in a gently wooded area that makes it an enchanting place to experience music. However guests choose to enjoy the festival, Ravinia aims to present a full range of classical music, along with a variety of other kinds of light classical, jazz, and popular music; all while maintaining a beautiful park that is welcoming to all. It is in this way that they hope to bring a musical experience that is enhanced by a natural environment.

This summer, students of the Sistema Ravinia Program, which fosters social development through exceptional music training, held a special workshop led by Brother Jonathan Rush (Beta Xi – The Ohio State University – 2016). Over the past few years, Rush has become known as a conductor who brings passion, unique interpretation, and refreshing energy to the orchestral experience. He has served as Music Director of the Buckeye Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a conducting fellow for the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra. In 2018, Jonathan was named a Project Inclusion Conducting Fellow with the Chicago Sinfonietta, and in 2019 he was named their Assistant Conductor. Last year, Brother Rush was named the Assistant Conductor for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

During the special summer workshop with Sistema Ravinia, Rush was able to inspire a brand new generation of young musicians and show them that having passion and a love for the power that music holds can be a springboard to becoming a musician on a professional level. Rush has expressed that his overarching goal is to not only inspire young musicians but to also pave the way for those that face challenges, discouragement, and lack of access to music.

The workshop would culminate in a special performance by the students – their first in-person orchestral performance since December 2019. Leading up to the performance, all students received virtual lessons and group instruction and had smaller in-person rehearsals at Ravinia in early July. “It’s been really cool hearing other instruments and seeing people in real life instead of Zoom,” violinist Gregory Dandridge said.

On the day of the concert, Maestro Rush led the kids’ orchestra in a rehearsal of Mambo Amable and music from the “New World” Symphony. The orchestra’s energy and the sound grew with the guidance of Rush. The students tapped into a new sense of musicianship as they played together and alongside the young conductor, and when the final piece was performed, they played with greater confidence as their guests danced on the Lawn. It was a moment of true artistic and musical bliss as a warmth seemingly drifted over all those present.

After the performance, Brother Rush took a moment to give feedback and answered questions about his life and musical career – forging a connection through a shared musical experience. At the end of the day. students were also able to watch Rush make his Ravinia debut conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the first time alongside one of his mentors, Maestra Marin Alsop.

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