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Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ revisited for the 21st century

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When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Ravinia Festival, 200 Ravinia Park Rd., Highland Park

Tickets: $26-$60, reserved; $10, lawn

Info: (847) 266-5100;

Updated: July 24, 2013 6:27AM

Few if any works in the classical repertoire are more popular than Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” and that’s the problem.

The 1723 set of four violin concertos is so often heard that it is easy to become indifferent to its many musical pleasures, or worse, to begin ignoring the works altogether.

That’s essentially what happened to Max Richter, a German-born British composer most widely known for his scores to such films as “Shutter Island” and “Sarah’s Key.”

To counter his disaffection, Richter did something radical: He reworked and updated the masterwork as part of Deutsche Grammophon’s “Recomposed” series, with the label releasing a recording of the revised work late last year.

In what will be his solo debut at the Ravinia Festival, famed British violinist Daniel Hope will join conductor Tito Munoz and the Chicago Philharmonic at 7 p.m. Sunday for just the second performance of the work in the United States.

“This year really kicks off a series of performances,” Hope said. “I’m just delighted that people are very interested in hearing it live as well, so I think it’s going to have a whole life to it, which is very exciting for any new piece.”

In his rethinking of “The Four Seasons,” Richter quickly realized that he needed to do more than just minor tinkering and that he could not be intimidated by the work’s popularity.

“Having committed to the slightly crazy idea of opening up this score, I then had to take the position that any intervention I might make was fair game,” Richter said in an e-mail. “Otherwise, I would have ended up censoring myself, and that would have been a waste of time. In a way, the work’s iconic status made it easier to do this. It was a case of either bet the farm or walk away.”

After much of the piece was composed (or recomposed, as it were), Richter asked Hope to take a look. The violinist was skeptical at first, but once he examined the musical sketches, he quickly got excited and wanted to be part of the project.

“I’ll never give up the original because I love it, but I do think that Max has given it a different dimension,” Hope said. “In a sense, he has brought Vivaldi’s music into the 21st century, and he does it with very much his own take. It’s 90 percent Max Richter, and yet there are many elements of ‘The Four Seasons’ that people who know it and love it will recognize immediately. I just think it’s done with real taste and with great expertise.”

Richter is hardly the first composer to offer an updated take on Vivaldi’s classic. In 2009, Philip Glass wrote a version titled Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2, “The American Four Seasons.”

“I’m not sure I would want to hear every composer recompose it,” Hope said, “but there’s something about the repetition and minimalism in some Baroque music, which does fit into [the work of] both a composer like Philip Glass and Max Richter, even though they are very different.”

After Richter finished his recomposition, he realized that he had fallen back in love with the original, and Hope suspects something similar might happen to others who have become a bit fatigued by “The Four Seasons.”

“It’s very well-done piece, and I love playing it,” he said. “But when you do return to the original, it’s like coming home again. You feel like you’ve rediscovered somebody again, and that’s actually quite a nice thing.”

Kyle MacMillan is a locally based free-lance writer.

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