As President and CEO of Ravinia Festival, Welz Kauffman has been responsible for both the artistic and financial integrity of North America’s oldest music festival since his appointment in 2000. In addition to programming more than 140 public attractions—ranging from the annual summer residency of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to concerts by the likes of Sting, John Legend, Los Tigres del Norte, and Ms. Lauryn Hill—for 600,000 visitors each season, Kauffman has quadrupled the number of donors to the not-for-profit while at the same time breaking ticket revenue records nearly each year of his tenure, taking Ravinia from a $17 million to a $38 million company. He oversees a year-round staff of 50 and a seasonal staff of more than 600.
Kauffman has also expanded Ravinia’s REACH*TEACH*PLAY education programs to provide equitable access to music at the festival and throughout Chicagoland. Both his parents were teachers, so education became a major pillar of Kauffman’s tenure, and most recently he installed “El Sistema” training and created student orchestras for local elementary schools without music programs of their own.
Building on four decades of artistic leadership from coast to coast—the New York Philharmonic to the Los Angeles Philharmonic—Kauffman is dedicated to preserving and building audiences for classical music through innovative programming that runs the gamut from beloved chestnuts to films accompanied by live performances, as well as major works commissioned expressly for Ravinia. He has expanded programming in Ravinia’s two indoor venues, the 850-seat Martin Theatre and the 450-seat Bennett Gordon Hall, to host one of the most extensive chamber music series in the world. He has mainstreamed the festival’s on-campus summer conservatory, Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, by incorporating its alumni and the 60 annual participants, who study with such artists as Kiri Te Kanawa and Christoph Eschenbach, into main-stage concerts. He has also ensured accessibility by controlling ticket prices with the mantra “$25/$10/FREE,” making the majority of tickets to CSO concerts in Ravinia’s 3,400-seat Pavilion only $25 and general admission to the lawn for all classical concerts only $10. Reserved seats to chamber concerts in Bennett Gordon Hall are also only $10 each. Kauffman completely waived the cost for all children and students through college, admitting them free to the lawn for all classical concerts. His audience development projects include special events such as “Beer, Brats & Beethoven” and “One Score, One Chicago.”
Over the past decade, Kauffman has reinvested $30 million into Ravinia’s infrastructure, including the construction of a world-class dining pavilion and flanking the Pavilion stage with video screens, as well as the new Ravinia Music Box “experience center” that is in the works.
Previous to Ravinia, Kauffman also worked for the Los Angeles Philharmonic/Olympic Arts Festival; the J. Paul Getty Trust; the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; the Atlanta Symphony, where he collaborated with the legendary vocal conductor Robert Shaw and former president Jimmy Carter; and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, where he developed community programs with Hugh Wolff and Bobby McFerrin.
In addition to his work at Ravinia, Kauffman serves as president of the Serge Rachmaninoff Foundation and a trustee of the Kurth Weill Foundation. He is a founding board member of Ingenuity Inc., which works closely with the Chicago Public Schools to ensure efficient collaborations with arts agencies and other not-for-profits.