A Classic For All Ages

March 1, 2016
A Classic For All Ages

The Cleveland Orchestra has music for everyone, no matter the era

Annie Zaleski

Cleveland is many things: a sports town, a foodie haven and a nature lover's paradise. As residents know, it's also a hopping classical music destination, largely because of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra.

The 98-year-old orchestra works as hard as a rock & roll band, performing over 150 concerts a year at its local homes—the gorgeous University Circle concert hall Severance Hall and idyllic wood-paneled outdoor amphitheater, Blossom Music Center—and in venues around the globe. But numbers only reveal part of why the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the city's cultural crown jewels. First and foremost, the troupe is remarkably versatile. For example, in April they'll perform Bartók in conjunction with the Joffrey Ballet, and then weeks later turn around and perform the score to the 1935 flick Bride Of Frankenstein live.

This approach illustrates how committed the orchestra and its musicians are to making classical music accessible to everyone. In fact, patrons don't even have to come to Severance Hall to catch the orchestra in action: Several years ago, a small troupe known as Ensemble HD took up residence at Gordon Square's cozy Happy Dog, performing classical pieces as patrons munched on hot dogs, tater tots and craft beer. The success of these shows inspired the Cleveland Orchestra to start doing its own neighborhood residencies: In subsequent years, both the full-scale orchestra and smaller ensembles have performed in unorthodox spaces, including places such as churches, bowling alleys and bakeries.

"We did these residencies all around the world—whether in Miami or Vienna—and we thought, 'We should do this in the neighborhoods of Cleveland as well,'" says the orchestra's Chief Marketing Officer, Ross Binnie. "We all just want to play more music for more people every day."

These neighborhood performances are also family-friendly—something that also distinguishes the concerts at the Orchestra's warm weather home, Blossom Music Center. Two kids ages 17 and under get in free with the purchase of one adult lawn ticket, making a night at the orchestra an affordable experience. Picture it: You can curl up on the sloping Blossom grass lawn on a balmy summer night while munching on beer, wine, cheese, sandwiches or other snacks, while soaking up a performance of The Who's Quadrophenia; the orchestra playing the score of Raiders Of The Lost Ark as the movie plays on big screens; or performing pieces ranging from classical music totems to iconic movie scores.

"We have this audience in Northeast Ohio that's buzzing," Binnie says. "They're educated; they have appetite; they're curious; they're adventurous; and they just give us that energy to play even better. I've been in the orchestra business coming on 20 years, and I've never seen anything quite like a concert experience in Cleveland or at Blossom, from an outdoor perspective."

Binnie adds that the Cleveland Orchestra feeds off of this audience enthusiasm and energy, no matter where they're performing. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that the supportive, open-minded local classical music community—which relishes the orchestra tackling challenging pieces as much as they appreciate hearing old favorites—is what makes a trip to see the orchestra so vibrant and exciting.

"This orchestra has stuck to what we do best, and we're as serious as any orchestra on the planet about what we do. We don't take prisoners," Binnie says with a laugh. "We don't pander. We play this incredibly rich and terrific music. And because we haven't veered from that in the 98 seasons we've been around, the audience has just grown up and wants to know more.

"There's something in the DNA about classical music in this community."

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