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Cleveland's classical music community is in the throes of a major makeover. It's no longer enough just to roll out the canon and expect seats to fill. Along with Mozart, Dvorák, and Tchaikovsky, programmers are mixing in pop stars like Béla Fleck and Roberta Flack, and staging concerts in a growing number of unorthodox venues.
"Without diminishing our commitment to the great classics performed at the highest levels, we're expanding what we do to appeal to a much broader range of the community," says Cleveland Orchestra Executive Director Gary Hanson. "Listeners should have a choice of experiencing the orchestra at Severance Hall, or individual musicians at the Happy Dog tavern."
The chamber music series at the Happy Dog is only one of many outreach efforts the orchestra has undertaken, which this season include a new Neighborhood Residency program and performances in area schools. A partnership with the Joffrey Ballet will bring a spectacular production of The Nutcracker to Playhouse Square during the holiday season (Nov. 29 – Dec. 2). And a collaboration with the Rock Hall will bring Police drummer Stewart Copeland to Severance next month for the Cleveland premiere of his raucous Gamelan D'Drum (Oct. 5).
Copeland and Fleck, who will be performing his "Banjo Concerto" with the orchestra (Oct. 6, 7 & 8) are part of the "Fridays@7" series, a blend of classical and pop programming designed to attract younger audiences. The performances are followed by an afterparty in the Severance lobby. After two successful summers at Blossom, the orchestra is also expanding its "Under 18s Free" offer to include selected concerts at Severance this season.
"Tons" is how Hanson characterizes the number of young faces he sees in the audience these days. "But that has to continue to grow," he adds. "So this is not a one-, two- or three-season effort. This is a permanent effort on the part of the Cleveland Orchestra to keep up with a changing world."
Hard-core classical fans will find plenty of other reasons to be at Severance this fall. Highlights include the season opener, with Music Director Franz Welser-Möst conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 3 (Sept. 20 & 22); Giancarlo Guerrero, the orchestra's principal guest conductor in Miami, leading a concert performance of Stravinsky's Petrouchka and the world premiere of Stephen Paulus's Violin Concerto No. 3 (Oct. 11, 13 & 14); the exciting American mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke joining Israeli conductor Pinchas Steinberg for an all-Russian program (Oct. 18, 19 & 20); and one of the world's most famous classical musicians, Yo-Yo Ma, will be joining the orchestra for a special gala concert, playing Williams and Dvorák (Nov. 3).
An equally exciting fall season is already underway just down the street, at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Roberta Flack fans will have to wait until the new year to see her benefit concert with the CIM Orchestra at Severance (Jan. 26). But the programming between now and then is first-rate.
The Mixon Hall Masters Series features an outstanding chamber group, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (Oct. 17), and superstar violinist Midori playing with one of her regular accompanists, Turkish pianist Özgür Aydin (Nov. 5). The CIM Opera Theater will open its season with a production of Domenico Cimarosa's opera buffa Il matrimonio segreto (Nov. 7 – 10).
Along with the classics, there's plenty of modern music on tap. The CIM Orchestra is paying tribute to 20th-century Polish composer Witold Lutosawski, though not until Jan. 23. In the meantime, fans of contemporary music can hear the work of American composer Sean Shepherd, who will be in town for a performance of his pieces by CIM's New Music Ensemble (Nov. 11). The group will reprise some of the selections a few days later in a performance at the new Museum of Contemporary Art building (Nov. 15). CIM is also hosting an evening dedicated to 20th-century French composer Darius Milhaud (Oct. 31).
The Institute made an initial foray into aesthetic venues last year with a "Music in the Galleries" series at the Cleveland Museum of Art. That will return this year, with chamber concerts on the first Wednesday of every month, beginning Oct. 3. The early starting time of the concert (6 p.m.) will allow listeners to take in a double bill, as there are free faculty concerts at the Institute on many Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m.
And for just $5, you can see CIM Orchestra concerts at Severance. The next one is on Oct. 10, with Carl Topilow on the podium and Andris Koh, a gifted cellist from Singapore, soloing on Dvorák's seminal Cello Concerto in B minor.
The Cleveland Museum of Art offers the best crossover programming in the city, serving up a tasty mix of classical, contemporary and traditional music, along with dance and choral ensembles. For classical music devotees, the fall portion of the schedule includes two evenings of world-class performers. The Prazak Quartet, one of the finest string ensembles in Central Europe, will offer a taste of its homeland with a program of Haydn, Dvorák and Suk (Oct. 31). And Jordi Savall, the unchallenged master of the Spanish viol, is bringing his amazing Hespèrion XXI ensemble (Nov. 7).
Other CMA concerts to mark on the calendar for next year: the Kronos Quartet (Jan. 18), the Juan Siddi Flamenco Theater Company (Feb. 8), fado singer Ana Moura (March 22), Zimbabwean guitarist and singer-songwriter Oliver Mtukudzi, and a Cleveland Orchestra performance of works by contemporary California composers (May 3).
And then there are Cleveland's roving orchestras, for whom outreach is a way of life.
Apollo's Fire is coming off a red-hot 20th-anniversary year with the signature mix of popular classics, deep Baroque, and traditional music that has earned the ensemble international standing. Its fall offerings start easy with three of Bach's Brandenberg Concertos (Oct. 11 – 14); dig deeper into the Baroque repertoire with a tasty set of passacaglias by Monteverdi and Charpentier (Nov. 1 – 4); reprise the crossover favorite Sacred Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas, concurrent with a DC/DVD release (Dec. 5 – 11); and resurrect Handel's Messiah for the holidays (Dec. 14 – 17).
Audiences around the world have gathered to hear Apollo's Fire, and locally it could not be easier. There are four performances of each program, scheduled with an eye toward accessibility—East Side, West Side, south (Fairlawn, Akron) and downtown. Church venues like Fairmount Presbyterian, St. Paul's Episcopal and Trinity Cathedral add to the ambience.
Much younger but no less enterprising is City Music Cleveland, a chamber orchestra that takes the Apollo's Fire model a step further, playing in venues where local residents would normally not have an opportunity to hear classical music, and offering free admission. The no-cost, inner-city approach takes nothing away from the programming.
For the first concert series (Oct. 17 – 21), violin prodigy Rachel Barton Pine is joining the orchestra for a performance of Bruch's popular Violin Concerto No. 1, with the exciting young Ryan McAdams on the podium for a program that also includes Falla and Beethoven. In December (12 – 16), the remarkable conductor and cardiologist Stefan Willich will be in town to lead the ensemble in a program of Mozart and Mendelssohn, featuring principal oboist Rebecca Schweigert Mayhew.
In all, that's a rich fall schedule. Few cities offer that much refined music — especially for free. —
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