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Ravinia president and CEO Welz Kauffman stepping down from festival’s helm

Kauffman will depart after the 2020 season, which will mark his 20th year with the Ravinia Festival.

Ravinia Festival President and CEO Welz Kauffman is interviewed during a hard hat tour for the unveiling of Ravinia’s renovated dining pavilion and restaurant amenities in 2018.
Ravinia Festival president and CEO Welz Kauffman is interviewed during a hard hat tour for the unveiling of Ravinia’s renovated dining pavilion and restaurant amenities in 2018.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Welz Kauffman, the Ravinia Festival president and CEO who has helmed the world-renowned music behemoth in Highland Park for nearly two decades, will be stepping down from his post, it was announced Saturday.

The 58-year-old Kauffman will depart after the 2020 season, which will mark his 20th year with Ravinia.

“After much reflection, I’ve decided that this milestone anniversary would be the right time to make way for someone new to shape the festival’s future,” Kauffman said in a statement. “My goals were to give our board ample time to find that right person, and to oversee the inaugural season of the RaviniaMusicBox experience center next summer. It seems like the past two decades occurred in just a minute, and I have other interests I’d like to pursue—maybe even a summer vacation.”

The RaviniaMusicBox experience center (a new structure adjacent to the dining pavilion that will house a 65-seat immersive, 360-degree theater, a lobby/foyer and a gallery) is one of the milestones in Kauffman’s tenure as full-time director of the summertime destination (the country’s oldest outdoor music festival), which programs more than 140 concerts each year between May and September and has been the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1936. Highlights of Kauffman’s tenure have also included a $65 million dollar investment in Ravinia’s infrastructure, including a fully reimagined and expanded dining pavilion, and the expansion of Ravinia’s music education program Sistema Ravinia, which provides the curriculum, funding for teachers and musical instruments to create student orchestras at Chicago and Lake County elementary schools.

In an interview with the Sun-Times earlier this year to discuss the season’s lineup, Kauffman talked about the Ravinia concert experience: “I’m not sure I ever really start off planning any season with a specific thought in mind when it comes to the programming other than the driving force that is our mantra: something for everyone. Our season continues to be something for audiences of all ages, local audiences and regional audiences. … There are very few [venues] that can do what we do. You can hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra here and you can hear Maxwell here — the location is the same but the vibe takes on a whole new personality with each artist. I think that is truly unique and what makes a concert at Ravinia such an experience.”

Prior to Ravinia, Kauffman worked for the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Olympic Arts Festival, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Ravinia’s Board of Trustees will be forming a search committee for Kauffman’s successor, Saturday’s announcement stated. He is only the third person to helm Ravinia in the history of the organization, following pianist Edward Gordon (1974-1989) and Zarin Mehta (1990-2000).

Ravinia’s CEO Welz Kauffman shared his recipe for risotto with Linda Yu as part of the Sun-Times’ “Food We Love Series” in 2018.
Ravinia’s CEO Welz Kauffman shared his recipe for risotto with Linda Yu as part of the Sun-Times’ “Food We Love Series” in 2018.
Sun-Times