Ravinia halls alive with holiday music
Elisabeth Von Trapp
Empire Brass and Elisabeth von Trapp
Ravinia Festival’s Bennett Gordon Hall, 201 St. Johns Ave., Highland Park
8 p.m. Dec. 6; $10
www.ravinia.org or call (847) 266-5100
Updated: November 28, 2012 1:56PM
What’s in a name?
Actually, plenty, when the name is von Trapp. The escape from the Nazis by this large Austrian family of singers was chronicled in the 1959 Broadway musical “The Sound of Music,” that etched the story and that family name in our collective memory.
The musical became an Academy Award winning film in 1965 with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer as Maria and Captain von Trapp.
And the film, though heavily fictionalized, was a favorite of the von Trapp’s granddaughter Elisabeth. “My father’s name was Werner,” she said. “He was the second oldest son and was part of the Trapp Family Singers. His name was changed to Kurt in the movie.”
Elisabeth is one of Werner’s six children. “We all loved going to ‘The Sound of Music,’ our cousins too,” she recalled, “because music is the core of our family bond.”
Elisabeth von Trapp will sing with the Empire Brass at the Ravinia Festival in a Christmas program that embraces classic brass numbers by the ensemble, plain song as well as Gregorian chant and carols from around the world sung by von Trapp with brass accompaniment.
“I’ll sing ‘God Bless Ye Merry, Gentlemen,’ which is an English carol,” she explained. “Also ‘Because All Men are Brothers’ by J. S. Bach, plus the French carol ‘Ding, Dong Merrily on High.’”
She will also do the touching “In the Bleak Midwinter,” a setting of the Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti. Having been raised in Vermont’s Sugarbush ski area, she said, laughing. “I know all about about bleak midwinters.”
And yes, she will sing the inspirational “Climb Every Mountain” and the reflective “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music,” the last musical Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together.
Von Trapp studied voice at Johnson State College, a liberal arts school in Johnson, Vermont. “Professors who taught at Juilliard taught there too,” she said. “At that time of my life all I wanted was music, music, music.”
She is one of six siblings and they grew up surrounded by song. “At Christmas we all got together and sang carols,” she recalled. “My father built a huge stone chimney and I remember my Uncle Hugh leaning against the chimney and singing.”
Her parents were married in 1948 and her father, who for a time sang professionally, would be away from the family for long periods. “He wrote to my mother every single night he was traveling,” von Trapp recalled. “Now that I am touring, I realize that after a concert there are receptions, sometimes dinners, and that you don’t get back to your hotel room until very late. Yet he wrote a letter every night.”
She began touring with the Empire Brass a decade ago and, in combination with her solo appearances, does about 100 concerts a year. Her husband Edward Hall travels with her.
Welz Kauffman, president and CEO of the Ravinia Festival, has long been a fan of the Empire Brass.
“I have experienced the sounds of Empire Brass on numerous occasions,” he explained. “I first heard them with (founder) Rolf Smedvig and also when he was principal trumpet at the Boston Symphony way back when I was a piano student at Tanglewood in 1977.”
The storied ensemble is the first brass group to win the prestigious Naumberg Chamber Music Award. The Emprie Brass has played with major symphony orchestras throughout the United Sates, regularly performed in Europe and has made 13 tours of the Far East.
The show with von Trapp, however, will be new to Kauffman. “I have not heard Elisabeth before,” he declared, “but have heard raves about this program.”
The Dec. 6 concert is, by all accounts, the first time a Christmas program has been given at the Ravinia Festival. “We believe this is the first one,” the CEO observed, but then added, wryly, “Of course, the moment you state that, someone comes out of the woodwork to remind you of that ‘great holiday performance’ they recall from 1943!”
The holiday program is part of Kauffman’s initiative to use the 450-seat year-round Bennett Gordon Hall more often. Recitals are being given on select nights in the fall and spring, and those that have purchased the fall series or will purchase the spring series can buy a ticket to “The Sound of Christmas” for $10. In the spirit of the holidays, for this concert only, Ravinia Gifts will be open before and after the program.
Von Trapp particularly enjoys singing at the holidays. “My grandmother Maria had the vision of everyone singing,” she said. “I feel so honored to be part of that vision today. I hope that like the original Trapp Family Singers who blessed the audience with their singing, the audiences at my programs will be transported into the joy of the songs I sing.”