The CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA is one of the premier orchestras of the world, joining with those of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago to comprise the generally acknowledged "Big Five" of American symphonic music. Its first concert was a benefit for St. Ann's Parish of CLEVELAND HEIGHTS at GRAY'S ARMORY on 11 Dec. 1918. The musical personnel recruited for that concert, including NIKOLAI SOKOLOFF as conductor, went on to form the core of a permanent Cleveland Orchestra under the management of ADELLA PRENTISS HUGHES (1918-1933) and the direction of the MUSICAL ARTS ASSOCIATION. During the 1920s, the orchestra built a firm base of local support and began to achieve broader notice through travels in Ohio, the East Coast, Canada, and Cuba. Concerts were given in the Masonic Auditorium and later in the PUBLIC AUDITORIUM and the adjacent Music Hall. A substantial gift from Mr. and Mrs. JOHN L. SEVERANCE enabled the Musical Arts Association to build a permanent home, SEVERANCE HALL, for the orchestra at Euclid Avenue and East Boulevard in UNIVERSITY CIRCLE. The orchestra inaugurated it in 1931.
From 1933 to 1955, Carl Vosburgh served as general manager, playing a significant role in establishing the orchestra's national prominence. Vosburgh was succeeded by William McKelvey Martin from 1955 to 1957. A. Beverly Barksdale served as general manager from 1957 to 1970, during the orchestra's first "Golden Age," when it achieved international prominence under conductor GEORGE SZELL. Subsequent general managers have included Michael Maxwell (1970-1976), Kenneth Haas (1976-1987), and Thomas W. Morris (1987-2003). Gary Hanson (2003-current) held the position of executive director as of 2007.
Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Most became the orchestra's seventh musical director at the beginning of the 2002-2003 season. Welser-Most's six predecessors were: Nikolai Sokoloff (1918-33); ARTUR RODZINSKI (1933-43); Erich Leinsdorf (1943-46); George Szell (1946-70); Lorin Maazel (1972-82); and Christoph von Dohnanyi (1984-2002). Robert Shaw served as the orchestra's associate conductor from 1956-67, charged by George Szell with revitalizing the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. It was under Szell's musical direction that the orchestra undertook an extensive series of foreign tours that greatly enhanced its international reputation. Maazel and Dohnanyi continued the tours while expanding the orchestra's commercial recording work. Under Dohnanyi (1984-2002), a tradition of operatic productions dating from the days of Rodzinski in the 1930s was revived, culminating in concert performances of Wagner's Die Walkure and Das Rheingold at Severance Hall in 1992 and 1993. In 1992, the Cleveland Orchestra became the first American orchestra to establish a residency at Austria's Salzburg Festival, with regular performances there from 1990-1996. The orchestra reopened Severance Hall in 2000 after completion of a two-year, $36-million renovation and restoration project designed by architect David Schwartz.
During Welser-Most's tenure as musical director (2002-current), the orchestra began a ten-year annual program of residency performances and educational activities in Miami, Florida, arranged through Miami's Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. The Miami orchestra-in-residency program began in 2007.
In addition to revenues from tours, local ticket sales, and performance recordings, the Cleveland Orchestra has been supported by a $123 million endowment (as of the close of 2005-2006 season). Other large contributions, organized through the Musical Arts Association (see link above), have come from corporate, government, and foundation grants. Education has been a major facet of the orchestra's work since its inception and has involved, among other things, hundreds of concerts for local schoolchildren. During the orchestra's first 75 years, 3 million children attended educational concerts. In 2006, nearly 30,000 children attended Cleveland Orchestra events.
Grossman, F. Karl. A History of Music in Cleveland (1972).
Marsh, Robert. The Cleveland Orchestra (1967).
Musical Arts Assoc. Archives, Severance Hall.
Witchey, Holly Rarick. The Fine Arts in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1994).