Another brief history of the Cleveland Orchestra from Telarc, long a recording company for the Cleveland Orchestra
Long considered one of this country’s best symphony orchestras, The Cleveland Orchestra celebrated its 75th anniversary during the 1993-94 season. Under the leadership of its music director, Christoph von Dohnanyi, it has won unanimous acclaim from music lovers and critics throughout the world. Its performances at home, on tour, and on recordings continually demonstrate the orchestra’s ranking among the handful of great international orchestras. In its artistic, educational and community programming, The Cleveland Orchestra consistently shows its commitment to the people of the city for which it is named.
Among the last of America’s major symphony orchestras to be created, The Cleveland Orchestra was founded in 1918 by Cleveland music patron Adella Prentiss Hughes. The new orchestra soon became the primary concern of the Musical Arts Association, a non-profit community organization that had been incorporated three years earlier to help facilitate the ongoing presentation of concerts by visiting ensembles.
The orchestra’s first concerts were given at Grays’ Armory in downtown Cleveland during the opening 1918-19 season, after which they were moved to Cleveland’s Masonic Auditorium. In 1931, Severance Hall opened as The Cleveland Orchestra’s permanent concert home. Located five miles east of downtown in Cleveland’s “University Circle” area, Severance Hall was built for the orchestra by industrialist/philanthropist John Long Severance. It is today considered one of the world’s finer music halls.
Russian-American Nikolai Sokoloff served as The Cleveland Orchestra’s first conductor and music director. During his tenure, Sokoloff initiated an extensive domestic touring schedule that included annual trips throughout the Midwest and special tours to Canada and Cuba. In January 1922, Sokoloff and the orchestra made their first concert appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Over the following decade, they appeared together annually there in the nation’s music capital, garnering favorable press for themselves and for their hometown of Cleveland.
Among early mandates handed to Sokoloff from Mrs. Hughes was the creation of a series of educational concerts for young people. These matinee concerts have continued up to the present day as an integral part of the orchestra’s music-making each season, and, to date, have helped to introduce nearly 3 million children to classical orchestral music.
Sokoloff also led the orchestra’s first commercial disc recording of Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture and first radio broadcasts. By 1930, the orchestra’s recordings, radio broadcasts and tours were carrying the name of the city of Cleveland throughout the United States and Canada.
In 1933, Sokoloff was succeeded by Artur Rodzinski. Rodzinski remained with the orchestra for ten seasons and, amid many recordings and radio broadcasts, polished Sokoloff’s ensemble into one of America’s best symphony orchestras. Among highlights of his tenure was the presentation of 15 fully-staged opera productions at Severance Hall. Erich Leinsdorf served as music director from 1943 to 1946 although largely in absentia while serving in the United State armed forces during World War II.
In 1946, George Szell was named the orchestra’s fourth music director. Under Szell, the orchestra entered a new period of dramatic and sustained growth. The orchestra’s personnel was enlarged, eventually reaching 105 members, and the length of the season gradually grew from 30 to 52 weeks.
In 1948 Szell reinstituted annual Cleveland Orchestra performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and, in 1958, inaugurated the orchestra’s own yearly subscription series there. These annual appearances quickly helped to establish and then to confirm the ensemble’s place at the forefront of the musical world.
With Szell, the orchestra made its first international tours – to Europe (1957, 1965, 1967), and to Eastern Asia (1970) – and was widely acknowledged to be not only among America’s best but – for the first time – to be among the world’s handful of top orchestral ensembles. New series were also inaugurated or expanded to meet audience demand, and popular family programs and summer pops concerts were produced. In addition, the orchestra and Szell made numerous recordings of both classic and contemporary repertoire – recordings that today are regarded as “classic” of the LP era.
In 1952, Szell founded The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus to serve as the orchestra’s performing companion for choral works. This 170-voice volunteer choir was brought to early brilliance by Robert Shaw, the orchestra’s associate conductor from 1956-67, and has continued to join the orchestra in critically acclaimed concerts at home in Cleveland, on recordings and on tour.
The expansion of The Cleveland Orchestra’s performing schedule to a 52-week, year-round season was made possible in 1968 with the opening of Blossom Music Center. Located 25 miles south of Cleveland on 800 acres in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Blossom was conceived as both a summer home for the orchestra and as a regional performing arts center. Presentations at Blossom have included fully-staged ballet, musical and opera productions, as well as concerts by rock, pop and jazz artists.
Following George Szell’s death in 1970, French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez was appointed the orchestra’s musical advisor, a post he held through the end of the 1971-72 season. He and the orchestra made several prize-winning recordings during this time. In the fall of 1971, Lorin Maazel was appointed the orchestra’s fifth music director. His tenure began at the start of the 1972-73 season. Maazel continued The Cleveland Orchestra’s tradition of regular domestic and international touring, as well as recording activities with CBS, Decca/London and Telarc Records. Following a decade of achievement with The Cleveland Orchestra, Maazel resigned to accept the post of general manager and artistic director of the Vienna State Opera.
In March 1982, Christoph von Dohnanyi was named music director-designate and subsequently assumed his full-time duties with The Cleveland orchestra with the 1984-85 season. His contract was recently extended through the 1999-2000 season.
At home and on tour in the United States and abroad, the orchestra and Dohnanyi are today widely hailed as one of the world’s premier orchestra-conductor partnerships. Under Dohnanyi, The Cleveland Orchestra has become the most recorded orchestra in America.
The orchestra and Dohnanyi have made three concert tours to Eastern Asia (1987, 1990 and 1993) and four to Europe (1986, 1989, 1990 and 1992). The last two included performances at Austria’s prestigious Salzburg Festival, to which they returned in 1994 and will again in 1995. Their most recent Asian tour included performances of all nine Beethoven symphonies at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall.