The Cleveland Orchestra is perhaps Ohio's best kept secret. Unless you happen to be a serious lover of classical music. The Cleveland is possibly the world's most recorded orchestra. Time Magazine once called it the world's finest symphony orchestra, and it has won acclaim throughout the world. Certainly the Cleveland belongs to that elite class of orchestras that includes Chicago, Berlin and the New York Philharmonic. Conductor Leonard Slatkin has said that the Cleveland specializes in "uncommon precision". The lead violinist of the renowned Cleveland Quartet took a chair in the Symphony, and most of the players are of soloist quality. They recreate some of the closeness of chamber music with a full-sized orchestra. The Cleveland does exactly what the conductor asks of it, all of the time.
The Cleveland Orchestra was founded in 1918 and performed its maiden season at Gray's Armory, before moving to Cleveland Masonic Auditorium. Cleveland art patron John L. Severence made a substantial gift that allowed the construction of Severence Hall, which was completed in 1931. Located in Cleveland's University Circle on the campus of Case Western Reserve University, Severence Hall underwent an acoustic revision in 1958, and a $36 million dollar renovation in 1998-2000. Severence Hall remains the Orchestra's home today, and allows the orchestra to practice where it performs. The acoustics are marvelous, and the hall was one of the first built with radio broadcast in mind. During the summer the Cleveland performs at Blossom Music Center, north of Akron, Ohio. An outstanding 80 acre natural ampitheater set in the scenic hills bordering the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, Blossom is almost a magical place to experience music.
The Cleveland has known only six music directors since its inception. The first to take the baton was Russian American Nikolai Solokoff. Solokoff was an activist conductor, and hit the ground running. Under his baton the orchestra toured nationally, went on radio, recorded and began a long tradition of educational concerts. My introduction to classical music as a boy came when all Akron school kids were bussed downtown to the art deco Akron Civic Theater, to see the Cleveland perform. They performed selections from Rodeo, Billy the Kind, Peter and the Wolf and other pieces designed to appeal to both children and the thinking adult. My young butt was well and truly kicked by the sound and authority of a great orchestra.
Arthur Rodzinski served as Music Director from 1933 to 1943. He initiated the presentation of full scale operas in Cleveland and expanded the recording and broadcast of the symphony. He was briefly replaced by Erich Leinsdorf, who also served in the US Military during World War II.
In 1946 the great George Szell assumed the baton. Szell is widely regarded as one of the twentieth century's greatest conductors. As a child pianist, he toured as prodigy, and shared the same teacher as Rudolf Serkin. He became a conductor at 17, when the scheduled conductor was injured. Later he would serve under Richard Strauss at the German Opera in Prague. Many of his symphonic interpretations are regarded as benchmarks. Though recorded in the fifties and sixties they continue in release and are being re-mastered for new formats such as SACD.
The orchestra grew under Szell. Its season expanded, the membership grew, as did the size of the orchestra itself. In 1958 he led a renovation that improved the The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus was established under the direction of Robert Shaw. It was under Szell that the orchestra began its tradition of international touring. These tours built the orchestra's reputation as one of the world's finest. Szell held the Cleveland's baton until his death in 1970.
Famed conductor and pianist Pierre Boulez began his association with the Cleveland Symphony under Szell in 1965. He served as music sdvisor until 1972, when Lorin Maazel assumed the baton, and remains an associate of the orchestra today. Maazel is still one of the world's most highly regarded conductors, and he held the Cleveland's baton until 1983. Maazel suffered from having to follow Szell, an almost impossible task given the late conductor's near sainted reputation. Nevertheless, Maazel recruited outstanding musicians, and introduced modern compositions to the orchestral repertoire during his tenure.
Christoph von Dohnanyi served as Music Director form 1984 to 2002. Son of the Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnanyi, Dohnanyi recorded extensively, and with the finest available technology . While many orchestral favorites dominated his performance, he also brought modernists such as Ives, Varese, Smetana and Webern to disc. He was well-recieved in Cleveland and now serves as Music Drector Laureate as the baton passes to former director of the Zurich Opera, Franz Welser-Most.
All Cleveland Music Directors have earned an international reputaiton before assuming the baton in Severence Hall. Welser-Most has won awards from Gramophone and a Grammy nomination before arriving in Cleveland, though he first conducted the symphony in 1993.
Today the Cleveland remains one of the world's most prominent orchestras. It enjoys tremendous local support and has enough income and support to hire and retain the finest musicians. Were they located in a major media center, their popular reputation would rival their professional reputation. They are an orchestra that you must hear if you love classical music.