High Art in Low Places: The Cleveland Orchestra Takes Up Residency in Lakewood

For many people, the concept of attending a classical music concert involves putting on fancy clothes to watch a man waving a stick at a huge group of musicians. Contrary to this, recent trends have been bringing classical programming out of the concert hall into non-traditional venues. Places like Le Poisson Rouge in New York City and the PAUSA Art House in Buffalo do a wonderful job exhibiting art music concerts in a casual bar setting. Meanwhile, the world-wide organization Classical Revolution boasts over 30 chapters around the U.S., Canada and Europe, including a Cleveland chapter that curates performances once a month at Happy Dog.

The influence of Happy Dog owner Sean Watterson was key in bringing in the Cleveland Orchestra last year for an experimental week-long residency of performances and events at unusual venues in the neighborhood. This one-of-a-kind residency was such a success that the Cleveland Orchestra is again bringing classical concerts to a public forum, this time in Lakewood from May 17 to 24.

"We didn't know what to expect last year, [but the events] encouraged appreciation from the community," orchestra director of operations Julie Kim says about the Gordon Square residency.

Kim is also the main organizer of this residency, and explained how Lakewood's preexisting infrastructure supporting the arts make it an ideal place for the world-class ensemble to launch a larger-scale residency.

"Since Lakewood spans such a large area," she says, "there are geographical challenges involved. By covering more ground, we are able to bring the orchestra to more members of the community."

The residency includes more than 15 free events at various locations around the near-west town, as well as a multitude of education-based events available to students of Lakewood schools.

Perhaps the most unique event during the residency is the PORCHestra, happening May 18, which invites residents and businesses of Lakewood to register online so they can perform and curate concerts on their front porches. Many residents of the city are talented musically, and homeowners in the area take pride in their porches that will become beautiful music venues for an afternoon. Audiences will be able to locate the houses holding the concerts through Google Maps and are invited to attend the following concert on the front porch of the downtown Lakewood Public Library that will include the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus Chamber Ensemble.

"The object of the residency is to make classical music accessible to people who usually don't get to Severance," says Kim, and this involves pop-up shows in spaces that are part of Lakewood residents' everyday activity. Kicking off the public concerts on the morning of May 17 are simultaneous performances at two coffee shops: There will be a solo cello performance at the Root Cafe and a woodwind duet at Blackbird Baking Company. These shows are followed by a "surprise" event at Nature's Bin grocery store, providing unique musical experiences to people at different spots in Lakewood. On May 22, a quartet made up of strings and an oboe will perform in the Lakewood Hospital.

Not all of this week's concerts will be held in non-traditional locations. Lakewood Baptist Church is an amazing setting for musical performances and you can hear a string quintet the morning of May 18 playing a program that emphasizes the power and persuasion of music. On May 23, you can check out a string trio at Vosh Nightclub at 6 p.m., then go see a string quartet play Mahall's at 8 p.m. Established performance space Beck Center for the Arts focuses on non-musical performances and will hold a talk on May 19 by Cleveland Orchestra assistant conductor Brett Mitchell. Mitchell will provide enrichment and insight into the week's events for people of any level of musical knowledge.

These musicians are some of the best in the world, but that doesn't mean their skills end on the stage. Five orchestra members will be competing with Lakewood Family YMCA youth in a kickball game that's happening May 19, and a few members of the orchestra even cooked alongside culinary students at the Lakewood High School Ranger Cafe as part of their Celebrity Chefs program.

The Cleveland Orchestra has always had a large focus on student programs and has really engaged with educators in Lakewood to bring valuable experiences to their students. Members of the orchestra have been working with the schools since mid-March on various projects like adjudicated performances, mock auditions, and an orchestral performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Civic Auditorium for students only.

The Cleveland Orchestra's relationship with Lakewood dates back to 1920, though it's been nearly 30 years since then-music director George Szell lead the last concert at the Civic Auditorium. It is in this concert space where current music director Franz Welser-Möst will lead the orchestra in a concert that will air on radio and television, concluding the week of public events on May 24. The program includes Richard Strauss' masterpiece Don Juan, works by Johann Strauss Jr, and Ferdinand David's Concertino for Trombone and Orchestra featuring soloist Massimo La Rossa. The Cleveland Orchestra gave away 1,800 tickets to this event in less than 30 minutes, and while it's sold out, unclaimed seats will be given to non-ticket holders on the day of the performance. WVIZ will also video-record several of the week's events for a special program to air at a later date.

All of the events during the residency are free, and sure to be interesting stand-out experiences. On the uniqueness of the project Julie Kim says, "This type of residency is very new and there is no other organization of this size programming events like this on such a large scale." Don't miss these world-class performances; it's going to be a good week for classical music in Cleveland.

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