The Cleveland Orchestra's Second Century
Here's to 100+ years of excellence
By Heather Tunstall
After 100 years, The Cleveland Orchestra has refined its program and performances to a level of excellence befitting one of the top orchestras in the world. But they're just getting started.
The 2017-18 season marks the Second Century for The Cleveland Orchestra, and while they're paying homage to their past, they're looking ahead to the future.
That future will be forged by the youth of today, and The Cleveland Orchestra has made significant strides in educating and engaging the young people of Cleveland.
"We have some focus points," said Music Director Franz Welser-Möst. "We want to show how creative this institution has been in the last 100 years, starting with actually founding this orchestra for education purposes. So education will play an even bigger role in the future--and has to, simply because I think that in a cultural city like Cleveland, every kid should be touched by classical music."
The Second Century season is centered on a theme of Prometheus, or as Welser-Möst says, self-development, the starting point of human creativity that grows into imaginative evolution of freedom and goodness. So what does that mean?
"You try to get to the core of something, and basically what the arts can show you and teach you is what the core of being means really," he said. "So this Prometheus theme will go through our education programs. This is our philosophy, being creative, being innovative, trying to touch people's lives via great music, and laying the tracks for the vehicle to go for another 100 years."
The Cleveland Orchestra will continue its long-standing tradition of reaching out to community schools and youth groups to introduce classical music, and to teach them that it's something that will enrich their lives. In addition, the orchestra invites children under 18 years old to attend select concerts for free, and now enjoys the youngest audience in America for major orchestras, with 20 percent of the audience under the age of 25 and many repeat attendees.
"One of our musicians, Paul Kushious, a cellist, said once to me, 'Music is not an option.' And that's very true and I think if we can really convince people in this community, everyone, that music is something which will make your own life richer, then we have done a good job and we are laying a great ground for the next 100 years," Welser-Möst said.
The Prometheus theme extends beyond the educational aspect of the orchestra's efforts, as well. It will be a new concept for the orchestra's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. concert. Then, the theme will peak at the end of the season with performances of Beethoven's music.
Welser-Möst has a vision for The Cleveland Orchestra's own self-development, and it stands out in the Second Century season.
"I want to nurture still and further this chamber music approach," he said. "I want to have the most intelligent orchestra in the world because it's not just about playing the right notes at the right time, but actually give it meaning, and that needs also intellect and intelligence and that's something where the work just never stops. We've made a lot of progress but there is still so much to do. When you look at the history of the orchestra, it has always driven for perfection."
This season will showcase major classical music milestones, with opera integrated into the programming. One is the opera Tristan and Isolde by Richard Wagner, which transformed the classical music world when it was written. The Cunning Little Vixen will showcase the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus in September. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and other favorites are also included in the Second Century season lineup.
The season wraps up with two weekends focused on the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. The purpose is to examine Beethoven’s music through the metaphor of Prometheus, who gifted humanity with fire. Beethoven considered the gift of fire as the beginning of civilization, "the spark of creativity that has powered the imagination of generations, the warmth of justice and goodness, the fight for right, and individual freedoms," as stated by the orchestra. The end of the season will feature all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies.