If classical music has, for whatever reason, seemed to be a complete mystery to you, Cleveland offers a number of easy entrances into a world of new sonic adventures. Here are some fun and inexpensive ways to introduce yourself to the music, get to know the performers and make some new friends.
For starters, if you'd like to experience classical music in a club-like atmosphere, there are several possibilities that you should know about.
Founded in San Francisco in 2006, Classical Revolution became a national movement with the mission of creating a "platform for classical music to be heard in unconventional places by new audiences," explains Classical Revolution Cleveland's director Ariel Clayton Karas, in an article in ClevelandClassical.com. The Cleveland chapter has organized performances by classical musicians at various Cleveland pubs and bars since 2009. Today Classical Revolution Cleveland can be heard on the third Tuesday of each month at the westside Happy Dog on Detroit Avenue in the Gordon Square Arts District. There is no cover charge, the vibe is laid-back, and the hot dogs can't be beat.
A recent addition to Cleveland's burgeoning alternative classical music scene, Groupmuse organizes classical music house parties, or groupmuses, that bring friends and strangers together to socialize and enjoy music in an informal setting. Founded in 2013, the New York City-based organization currently has chapters in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Cleveland branch, founded by cellists Carlyn Kessler and Sophie Benn, began organizing events this fall. Kessler and Benn say they were attracted to the Groupmuse mission because it's a less formal way of sharing music with others. And for them, one of the most important aspects of being a musician is being able to connect to your audience in a personal way, which is sometimes difficult to do in a traditional concert setting. Events are free, although a $10 donation for the musicians is requested.
Bop Stop: Since the popular jazz club was acquired by the Cleveland Music Settlement in the summer of 2014, and the venue began presenting events in the fall of that year, manager Gabe Pollack has carved out a niche for the acoustically pleasing club by presenting all genres of music. That includes what we might think of as traditional classical as well as concerts featuring new music and experimental genre-bending ensembles. In addition to the great performances, the atmosphere can't beat, and the food and bar service is outstanding. (There is a nominal ticket price.)
If you're a habitue of Beachland Ballroom, try Waterloo Arts just down the road. At 4 p.m. on one Sunday each month, "Music for Miles" presents a free performance by local professional musicians that's one of the kid-friendliest series in town. Next door, the Callaloo Cafe serves up drinks and Caribbean food during the performances, and there's usually an art show up as well.
In addition to the clubs, there are plenty of concerts around town in alternative venues, or that offer easy access to classical music in various non-traditional ways.
Founded by baroque oboist Debra Nagy in 2009, Les Délices, a period instrument ensemble that explores the dramatic potential and emotional resonance of long-forgotten music of the French baroque, has thrilled area audiences with their annual concert series in Cleveland art galleries and at Plymouth Church. This fall the ensemble will add a series of free performances around town, including a family concert at the Bop Stop, and pop-up concerts in westside art galleries. If you've never attended a period instrument concert, why not give Les Délices a try?
Arts Renaissance Tremont: Now in its 25th year, ART, under the guidance of Chris Haff, annually presents a variety of classical music concerts by outstanding area musicians, often members of the Cleveland Orchestra. These free Sunday afternoon concerts in the sanctuary of Tremont's Pilgrim Church are a great way to introduce you, your family and friends to classical music.While you're there, why not take in one of the area's superb culinary offerings?
In need of a mid-week respite? The free Wednesday one-hour noon concerts at Trinity Cathedral downtown and Trinity Lutheran Church in Ohio City may be just what you're looking for. The Cathedral's Brownbag concert series offers a smorgasbord of musical offerings. If you're intrigued by an organ concert, you can find one every Wednesday of the year at Trinity Lutheran. These are "come when you can, leave when you must" events. Lunches are welcome and Trinity Cathedral offers a lunch special each week for $5.
CityMusic Cleveland has the unique mission of bringing free orchestral music to your doorstep. Each set of its annual programs is performed in four or five different venues — usually churches — around the Greater Cleveland area, and features appearances by outstanding soloists.
BlueWater Chamber Orchestra takes a slightly different tack. They perform in the Breen Center at St. Ignatius High School and Plymouth Church, but they hold the length of their programs to just over an hour, and there's no intermission. Known for creative programming, the performances are a great way to introduce yourself to the great repertoire for classical chamber orchestra without killing an entire evening. (As for the rest of the evening, the West 25th Street entertainment district and Shaker Square are close by.)
The Cleveland Orchestra is world famous for its performances of great works, but it lets its hair down on certain occasions — like its neighborhood residencies and Nights at the Movies. The big screen will come down twice this fall at Severance Hall, when the orchestra will play live scores for Back to the Future and Home Alone. A third movie night will feature organist Todd Wilson improvising a score to The Hunchback of Notre Dame — a great way to dip your toe into an organ concert.
Finally, the area's conservatories and schools of music offer an abundance of free performances by faculty members and talented student ensembles. The price is right, and your fellow audience members will fall on the younger end of the age spectrum.