Earlier in the year, I stopped in at Severance Hall, the main home of the Cleveland Orchestra, and started talking with an employee. We discussed, among other things, the upcoming second season of the new Summers@Severance concert series which I did a small post about last year.. He told me that management wasn’t sure how successful these concerts really were. However, from what I saw Friday July 10th, I believe the Musical Arts Association should have nothing to worry about. I managed to snag myself a nice aisle seat (for more than half of what they usually cost) on the ground floor and, after a happy hour on the front terrace, saw the Cleveland Orchestra perform works by Messiaen, Beethoven, and Strauss (as in Richard). German pianist Igor Levit played to a standing ovation and a bouquet given by a woman in the front row.
Inside the program booklet there is an excerpt from a piece written by Norman Lebrecht for Standpoint Magazine. Like Charles Michener’s New Yorker article (The Clevelanders) before him, Lebrecht marvels at the fact that a city like Cleveland can sustain such a world-class ensemble against all the odds. Norman Lebrecht writes of the city as
“.. a rustbelt town deserted by one-fifth of its population in the past decade, sinking below 400,000, has no right to own an orchestra of world quality and renown or so the industry wisdom goes. After 2008, insiders foretold its demise. Since then, the orchestra has gone from strength to strength, with winter residencies in Miami and summers at Europe’s elite festivals.”
If you replace the orchestra with the Museum of Art, or even the Cavaliers, what is said in this paragraph can apply to so many first class organizations in the Cleveland area; how can they survive in this Rust Belt basket case?
I remember reading similar things in Michener’s article when it came out in 2005. In that, the then President of the Musical Arts Association, the late James D. Ireland III, talked about the challenge of maintaining a world-class orchestra in a third tier economy. Yes, Cleveland has been hit hard over the past five decades as it has been for many Rust Belt cities. Then again, for every corporation like BP America, fleeing this town, there have been area foundations, other local firms, and more importantly the public, picking up the slack. In fact, it is the law firm of Thompson Hine LLP that sponsors this series.
Many of these places such as the orchestra are legacy assets from the time when Cleveland was the 5th largest city in the nation in the first half of the 20th century. Many American cities possess such assets and, if utilized wisely, they can help a city reinvent itself when times get rough. The fact that so many of these things have clustered around University Circle is one of the reasons I believe that the area is becoming an Innovation District; with incredible long-term benefits for the city and region. The Cleveland Orchestra managed to adopt itself successfully to a new set of challenges, just as the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Institute of Art have done and I might assume now the Natural History Museum is about to do with its own renovations. If you stay stagnant you die, and organizations such as the Cleveland Orchestra understand this.
Lebrecht does note in the same article the pride in the musicians in their craft. This shows in the phenomenal performance the packed hall witness last Friday. I’m not sure about the ‘networking potential’ of going to hear Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 but it is just as well seeing people just enjoying themselves on a summer evening. After all, Severance Hall is such a beautiful place to hear such music. There will be two more concerts in the series this August and the first one was any indication, they will be a success as well.
We have a lot to be proud of with the Cleveland Orchestra.