Classics on the Grass

The Blossom Festival kicks off with a tribute to America.

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Blossom Festival Blossom Music Center, 1145 West Steels Corners Road in Cuyahoga Falls 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, July 3-5, and 7 p.m. Sunday, July 6. $17 to $100; call 800-686-1141

Blossom Festival director Jahja Ling knows all about classical music's stuffy connotations. He knows that most people don't want to get dressed up to listen to an orchestra -- especially in summer. And he knows there's a dividing line between popular music and music that's supposed to be good for you. That's why he's doing his best to make classical music as accessible as possible. "The festival is a more casual atmosphere," Ling says. "You don't have to dress formally. And while intimate music is hard to play outdoors, most of the stuff we play is enhanced [by the setting]."

The Blossom Festival kicks off its fourth season under Ling's direction on Thursday at Blossom Music Center. And it's a big week. The Blossom Festival Band's annual holiday concert -- Stars and Stripes and Sousa this year -- is Thursday and Friday. Cleveland Orchestra conductor Franz Welser-Möst makes his Blossom debut with the ensemble Saturday for a Gala Concert and returns Sunday for a program consisting of works by Beethoven, Debussy, Dalbavie, and Ravel.

"We're featuring more young musicians this year," Ling says of performers such as 20-year-old pianist Lang Lang, who's appearing August 16. "We hope to attract more young people, because they can identify with their peers."

Most important, Ling sees this year's season -- which runs through the end of August -- as an opportunity to extend the festival's boundaries with programming that reflects both popular and more sophisticated tastes. There's An Evening at the Movies with guest conductor Bill Conti (the guy who wrote Rocky's theme song) on July 13. August features the All-Gershwin Program, Baroque Night, and a Boston Pops Baby Boomer Bash. And there are Ling's own turns as conductor. "I'm doing the Mozart Marathon on July 18 and 19," he says. "It's really exciting, because we're doing all five violin concertos.

"We like to [mix] pieces that are familiar with something people have never heard before."

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