A Century of Excellence
An Extraordinary Future
Musical Arts Association FOUNDED
Adella Prentiss Hughes, known as the “Mother of The Cleveland Orchestra,” founded the Orchestra utilizing her artistic vision, management skills, and ambition. Read more
The Cleveland Orchestra LAUNCHES
By 1918, her vision expanded to put together a permanent orchestra for the city. Read more
Nikolai Sokoloff FIRST MUSIC DIRECTOR
Nikolai Sokoloff holds the distinction of being the first music director of The Cleveland Orchestra, a position he held for fifteen seasons. Read more
The press was clearly excited about the possibilities of a resident orchestra in Cleveland.
December 11 FIRST CONCERT
The first concert of the newly formed Cleveland Orchestra was performed on December 11, 1918. Learn more
Before Severance Hall was built, The Cleveland Orchestra played concerts in Grays Armory, Masonic Auditorium, and Public Auditorium. See more
Spring TOURING BEGINS
The Orchestra began touring in its first season, making short trips to nearby cities in Ohio and surrounding states. See more
The Orchestra played in Masonic Auditorium from 1919 until the opening of Severance Hall in February 1931. See the first program
First Music Memory CONTEST
The Orchestra’s Music Memory Contest began in 1921 as part of its education program. Read more
First Children's CONCERT
The Cleveland Orchestra’s Children’s Concerts began as a formal series in 1921, the Orchestra’s fourth season. Read more
Women's Committee FOUNDED
The Women’s Committee of The Cleveland Orchestra was founded in 1921 under the guidance of Adella Prentiss Hughes. Read more
The Orchestra’s first concert in New York City was in the Hippodrome Theatre on February 13, 1921. The theatre boasted a seating capacity of 5,300 and a 100- by 200-foot stage. The Orchestra played to a full house!
First INTERNATIONAL TOUR
The Orchestra embarked on its first international tour in 1922, traveling to Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), where they presented the opera Aida with assistance from the Elgar Choir of Hamilton.
First CARNEGIE HALL CONCERT
On January 24, 1922, The Cleveland Orchestra made its Carnegie Hall debut with a program of Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, and Loeffler. Seating started at fifty cents!
First RADIO BROADCAST
In November 1922, the Union Trust Bank (Cleveland) announced that it would sponsor the first live radio broadcasts of the Thursday night performances of The Cleveland Orchestra. As a broadcast pioneer, the Orchestra was the second in the nation to broadcast live from the concert hall.
First COMMERCIAL RECORDING
The Cleveland Orchestra recorded its first commercial release in 1924 on the Brunswick label. The recording features Nikolai Sokoloff conducting a shortened version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Listen here
First OFF-SHORE TOUR
The Orchestra made its first off-shore tour in 1927, traveling to Havana, Cuba. Pictured here are Nikolai Sokoloff (music director), Adella Prentiss Hughes (founder and general manager) on the left, and Rudolph Ringwall (assistant conductor) on the right. The other people are not identified.
Introducing THE SEVERANCES
The Severances were longtime supporters of the Orchestra, including paying the first-season salary of Nikolai Sokoloff, first music director of the Orchestra, and in 1928, giving a $1 million gift to the Musical Arts Association. Watch here
On December 11, 1928, in a surprise announcement during an Orchestra concert intermission, John and Elisabeth Severance pledged $1 million to support the construction of a permanent home for The Cleveland Orchestra. Read more
Musical Arts Association GRATEFUL THANK YOU
This leather portfolio contains a beautiful letter from the Trustees of the Musical Arts Association to John and Elisabeth Severance thanking them for their generous donation toward a permanent home for The Cleveland Orchestra. Read more
Groundbreaking SEVERANCE HALL
In this photograph of the November 14, 1929 groundbreaking signaling the start of construction of the hall, John Long Severance, president of the Musical Arts Association and the hall’s major benefactor, is wearing a black armband to commemorate his wife's death on January 25, 1929.
Saturday INSTRUMENT SCHOOL
In cooperation with the Cleveland Board of Education, beginning in 1920, Orchestra members taught music lessons on Saturdays to children enrolled in the Cleveland city schools. By 1929, nearly 3,000 junior and senior high school students were enrolled in these classes. A few of these students later went on to become members of The Cleveland Orchestra.
Lillian Baldwin creates THE CLEVELAND PLAN
Lillian Baldwin was hired by both the Orchestra and the Cleveland Board of Education as the Supervisor of Music Education. Her charge was to strengthen the children’s concerts and music education programming. Read more
The opening and dedication of Severance Hall took place on February 5, 1931. After fourteen months of construction, the Orchestra finally had a permanent home in one of the most modern and beautiful concert halls in America.
A tour of SEVERANCE HALL
Take a short video tour featuring architectural highlights of Severance Hall.
Artur Rodzinski SECOND MUSIC DIRECTOR
Artur Rodzinski was appointed the second music director of The Cleveland Orchestra in 1933 and held the post for ten years.
Cleveland Mayor welcomes ARTUR RODZINSKI
Cleveland Mayor Ray T. Miller welcomes the Orchestra’s new music director, Artur Rodzinski, to Cleveland in this short video clip from 1933.
The first fully staged opera presented by The Cleveland Orchestra was Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde performed during the 1932/33 season. During Rodzinski’s tenure, the Orchestra performed fifteen fully staged operas, beginning the long tradition of innovative opera productions!
Orchestra premieres SHOSTAKOVICH OPERA
In 1935, the Orchestra presented the United States premiere of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, a controversial opera in the Soviet Union at the time. The Cleveland Orchestra then took the opera on the road to New York City, where they performed at the Metropolitan Opera House — becoming the first non-resident production to be performed at the Met!
Cleveland SUMMER POPS CREATED
The Cleveland Summer Orchestra (a group of musicians from The Cleveland Orchestra) started presenting Pops concerts at Public Auditorium in downtown Cleveland in 1939; the series continued until the opening of Blossom Music Center in 1968.
The Orchestra’s first commercial release with Columbia Records was recorded in Severance Hall on December 11, 1939, with Artur Rodzinski conducting. Listen here
Great Music and FUN TOO
Alice Chalifoux, pictured here, was the Orchestra’s principal harpist from 1931 until her retirement in 1974. Her remarkable memory and quick wit were captured during an interview for the Orchestra’s oral history collection. Listen here
Erich Leinsdorf THIRD MUSIC DIRECTOR
Erich Leinsdorf became the Orchestra’s third music director in 1943. He was drafted into the war effort in 1944, considerably shortening his tenure with the Orchestra. By December 1945, Leinsdorf had submitted his resignation from the Orchestra because the favorable tide of support for his leadership had waned.
intimate CLEVELAND SEND OFF
This 1943 recording was taped from a broadcast featuring Arthur Loesser, just hours before he left to report for active duty in the military. Listen here
George Szell FOURTH MUSIC DIRECTOR
George Szell was appointed the Orchestra’s fourth music director in 1946. His tenure spanned twenty-four years, until his death in 1970.
Louis Lane APPRENTICE CONDUCTOR
Louis Lane was appointed an apprentice conductor in 1947 by George Szell. He also held the roles of assistant conductor (1956-60) and associate conductor (1960-70). A talented musician, he additionally held several positions in the Orchestra, including piano and celeste (1947-54) and principal keyboard (1960-61).
Take me OUT TO THE BALLGAME
In the summer of 1953, the Orchestra performed Pops concerts at intermission between twelve double-header baseball games played by the Cleveland Indians at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. These concerts became known as the Indipops.
First Epic label RECORDING
Robert Shaw was appointed associate conductor of the Orchestra and director of the Chorus in 1956, a post he held until 1967. Read more
The Cleveland Orchestra embarked on its first European tour in 1957 with George Szell at the helm. See more
REACHING ACROSS BORDERS
Upon returning home from the 1957 European tour, and very aware of the humanitarian needs they encountered, especially in Poland, Cleveland Orchestra members sent gifts of much-needed clothing to Polish musicians. In return, members of the Katowice Philharmonic (Poland) sent this blanket and dolls in traditional Polish dress as a thank-you gift.
First coast-to-coast BROADCAST
Since 1922, The Cleveland Orchestra had been heard over the air waves, on broadcasts national and local. Read more.
Acoustical upgrade SZELL SHELL
In the summer of 1958, the stage at Severance Hall was renovated at the request of George Szell to improve the acoustics of the original hall. Read more
THE CLEVELAND SOUND
While the Orchestra certainly grew and developed during the tenures of Sokoloff and Rodzinski, it was under Szell’s baton that the Orchestra refined its sound and developed the characteristic precision, warmth, clarity, and overall signature sound that became widely known as “The Cleveland Sound.” Listen here
In February 1963, Time magazine proclaimed that The Cleveland Orchestra was among the top five American orchestras. George Szell, music director of the Orchestra, had the place of honor on the cover of that edition.
Boulez pushes MUSICAL BOUNDRIES
On the day after Boulez’s conducting debut with the Orchestra, Klaus Roy (the Orchestra’s program annotator and editor from 1958 to 1988) did an extensive interview with Boulez in front of a live audience. The topic was Mr. Boulez’s involvement with, and thoughts, about avant-garde music in general and electronic music in particular. Listen here
First Syndicated RADIO BROADCAST
In 1965, The Cleveland Orchestra began weekly syndicated radio broadcasts through the local radio station WCLV. Originally, eighty radio stations carried the broadcasts. By 1984, almost 300 stations had signed on. Robert Conrad, still the announcer for the Orchestra’s radio broadcasts, has been known as “the voice of The Cleveland Orchestra” since 1965!
Behind THE IRON CURTAIN
In 1965, the Orchestra toured Europe and the Soviet Union under the sponsorship of the United States Department of State. The tour included forty-five concerts during a ten-week period, half of which was spent in the Soviet Union. Learn more
Performing in LENINGRAD
During the 1965 tour, the Orchestra performed in Leningrad, Soviet Union. To hear a clip from this concert, please click on this picture of the Leningrad concert hall. Listen here
In 1966, the Orchestra and Music Director George Szell appeared on the Bell Telephone Hour, a concert series on NBC showcasing the best in classical and Broadway music. The Cleveland Orchestra’s appearance reached millions of viewers around the country and preserved a portrait of Szell’s rehearsal conducting style for posterity. Watch here
By 1966, plans were underway for the Orchestra to have a summer home and outdoor music venue. Several possible sites were considered, and ultimately, the current site of Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, was selected. Part of the review process included assessing the site from the air, as George Szell is doing in these photos. See more
Members of the Blossom family are shown here at the 1967 groundbreaking ceremony signaling the start of construction for Blossom Music Center.
European Festivals Tour
In 1967, The Cleveland Orchestra was the first orchestra to be invited to perform at all three European Festivals in one season. The festivals were in Switzerland (Lucerne), Austria (Salzburg), and Scotland (Edinburgh)! The Orchestra still performs at all three. See more
Blossom Music Center Opens
On July 19, 1968, the Orchestra performed the inaugural concert at Blossom Music Center. Since then, Blossom Music Center has been the summer home of The Cleveland Orchestra and one of the most acclaimed outdoor music venues in America.
Blossom Music Center celebrated its inaugural weekend in July 1968. In this photo, Mrs. Dudley Blossom, Jr. speaks on behalf of the Blossom family during the dedication remarks. Click to hear the opening remarks on that celebratory evening. Listen here
The Cleveland Orchestra and Ballet
The Musical Arts Association has a very long history of promoting ballet in Cleveland. In fact, after its formation in 1915, the Musical Arts Association’s first presentation featured Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Hippodrome Theatre in 1916. Read more
Appointed Musical Advisor
Pierre Boulez was invited to appear with the Orchestra for the first time in 1965. He and Music Director George Szell developed close personal and professional relationships. Boulez held the role of Principal Guest Conductor under Szell. Following Szell’s death in 1970, Boulez accepted the title of Musical Advisor for two years, prior to the appointment of Lorin Maazel as music director.
The Cleveland Orchestra reaches out to potential music enthusiasts and audience members of all ages through concert programs targeted to a wide range of ages, including the Music Explorers series (formerly Rainbows) (ages three to six), Family Concert series (ages seven and up), Education Concert series (children in the fourth grade), the Under 18s Free plan, and the Student Advantage Program (college and graduate school age students).
100 years after its founding, the Orchestra still aims to offer the finest quality musical experiences to everyone who is interested!
Boulez Introduces Informal Evenings
Between 1970 and 1972, in an effort to help audiences become more familiar with 20th century composers and works, Pierre Boulez, the Orchestra’s musical advisor, inaugurated a series of concerts called “Informal Evenings with Pierre Boulez and The Cleveland Orchestra.” Listen here
The Cleveland Orchestra embarked on its first tour of Asia in 1970, traveling to Japan and South Korea. The tour itinerary included fifteen concerts, twelve conducted by George Szell, and three conducted by Pierre Boulez. This tour was to be the last time Szell conducted the Cleveland Orchestra. He died a few months later in the summer of 1970. Listen here
Klaus Roy talks with Stokowski
During concert intermissions, Klaus Roy, the Orchestra’s program book annotator, conducted interviews with the guest artists for the evening. These interviews were played at the intermission of the concerts during radio broadcasts.
On May 13, 1971, Roy interviewed conductor Leopold Stokowski.
Lorin Maazel Appointed Music Director
Lorin Maazel was appointed the Orchestra’s fifth music director in 1972 and held the post for ten years, until 1982.
Music and More in Australia
In 1973, the Orchestra opened its season with a tour to New Zealand and Australia, where the Orchestra was honored to play during the inaugural weekend of the Sydney Opera House. In addition to making music, there was obviously also some time for cuddling kangaroos!
First Direct-to-Disc Recording
Always on the cutting edge of recording technology, The Cleveland Orchestra recorded the first classical music direct-to-disc LP in 1977 through the leadership of Cleveland’s own Telarc Records, Robert Woods, producer.
On December 10, 1978, the Orchestra celebrated its 60th anniversary with a special concert conducted by then Music Director Lorin Maazel and with guest artists Isaac Stern and Beverly Sills.
The Cleveland Orchestra demonstrated early its commitment to honoring this country’s greatest civil rights leader. Four days after the April 4, 1968, assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell performed the “Allegretto” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 as a memorial tribute to the life of Dr. King. Read more.
Severance Hall Is Honored
Severance Hall, home of The Cleveland Orchestra, has been honored with two historic site designations.
In recognition of its architectural excellence, historical significance, and cultural importance, Severance Hall has been designated a Cleveland Landmark by the Cleveland Landmarks Commission (1974) and is also on the federal government’s list of National Historic Places.
Lorin Maazel Talks At His Last Concert
Listen to Lorin Maazel he talks with Klaus Roy on the occasion of his last concert as music director.
Christoph Von Dohnányi Begins His Tenure
Christoph von Dohnányi began his tenure as music director of The Cleveland Orchestra on September 20, 1984, and held the post for eighteen years.
Dohnányi Talks With Klaus Roy
Hear Christoph von Dohnányi talk about his impending move to Cleveland to begin his work as music director of the Orchestra. This interview was taped in 1982.
In March 1983, the Orchestra’s first Rainbow concert series (now Music Explorers) began. These thirty-minute programs are designed for young people aged three to six years. An energetic host involves the children in singing, clapping, and moving to the music. Cleveland Orchestra musicians and guests perform short solo selections and child-friendly tunes, to introduce their instruments. Since its inception, more than 720 Rainbow concerts have been performed — reaching the Orchestra’s youngest audience members!
Youth Orchestra Is Formed
Founded in 1986, the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (COYO) has helped to develop and encourage the musical talents of young people from across the northeast Ohio region. Read and listen here
First Public Square Concert
The Cleveland Orchestra’s first appearance on Public Square was July 3, 1990. While the Orchestra had performed in downtown Cleveland (and at other outside venues), this was the first of what has become an annual tradition. Yearly attendance usually numbers in the tens of thousands!
The Orchestra Celebrates 75 years
The Cleveland Orchestra celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1994 with a concert at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium. The Orchestra played to a packed and enthusiastic house.
Top Five Again
Time Magazine Rankings
Thirty years after Time magazine declared that The Cleveland Orchestra was among the top five American orchestras, in 1993, the magazine boldly proclaimed the Orchestra as the finest American orchestra!
During its 100-year history, The Cleveland Orchestra has won nine Grammy awards.
Norton Memorial Organ Removed and Restored
The Norton Memorial Organ, considered to be one of the finest concert hall organs ever built, is one of the last, large E. M. Skinner organs still intact anywhere. Read here
Listen below to hear the restored Norton Memorial Organ on the stage of Severance Hall.
From 1998 to 2000, Severance Hall underwent a $36 million renovation to restore the hall's original detailing, expand its patron amenities and services, enhance its legendary acoustics, and to update its performance and support spaces to once again provide a state-of-the-art home for the Orchestra. Watch here
2002 Franz Welser-Möst
appointed 7th Music Director
Franz Welser-Möst was appointed the seventh music director of The Cleveland Orchestra in 1999. He began his tenure with the Orchestra in 2002.
First American Orchestra To Have Musikverein Residency
In 2003, The Cleveland Orchestra with Franz Welser-Möst as music director became the first American orchestra to be invited for a multi-year residency at Vienna’s prestigious Musikverein.
The Cleveland Orchestra and Miami
Since 1927, The Cleveland Orchestra has traveled many times to Miami, Florida. Eighty years later, in 2007, the Orchestra forged a new relationship with the Miami community when it launched its residency at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts (later renamed the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts).
The Orchestra continues to travel to Miami, performing concerts, educational concerts and activities, and collaborations with Miami-area institutions.
Staged Opera is back
Beginning in 2009, Music Director Franz Welser-Möst brought back staged opera to Severance Hall with a three-year cycle of the Mozart operas based on the libretti of Lorenzo Da Ponte.
Since then, the Orchestra has become known for its innovative, cutting-edge approach to opera productions — even taking productions on tour to Europe and earning great acclaim. See here
Return to Public Schools
In 2009, Music Director Franz Welser-Möst took the Orchestra back into the city high schools for live concerts, a practice dating back to the early years of the Orchestra’s history. This photo was taken during the first school concert, at John Hay High School, under Franz’s direction.
Center for Future Audiences
In keeping with the Musical Arts Association’s long-held vision to ensure that Cleveland’s Orchestra will be here for the next century and beyond for our entire community, the Center for Future Audiences was created in 2010 with the goal of having the youngest orchestra audiences in the country by the time of our centennial (2018). Read here
The Cleveland Orchestra enjoys a long history of presenting not only orchestral works, but also incorporating both staged opera and ballet into its vast repertoire. Since 1940, the Orchestra has collaborated in twenty-seven performances of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker with some of the best-known ballet companies including the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the Joffrey Ballet, and the Pennsylvania Ballet. Watch here
First Neighborhood Residency
2013 marked the first neighborhood residency of the Orchestra. In an effort to connect directly with communities in the Cleveland metropolitan area, the Orchestra spends time actively involved within the neighborhood, performing in small ensembles at local businesses, forming teams to engage with neighborhood teams in sports events, doing rehab projects, and offering a free orchestra concert in the area. The first residency was in the Gordon Square Arts District.
Opera in a New Direction
The Cleveland Orchestra takes opera in new directions, beginning in 2014 with a new, made for Cleveland production of Janáček’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen. Take a look at the creative process. Watch here
Opera in a New Direction
Following the success of The Cunning Little Vixen production, Franz Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra, forge ahead with more striking and daring opera productions. Watch here and here .
of the Musical Arts Association
Click here for a list of current and past board presidents.
of The Cleveland Orchestra
Click here for a list of current and past General Managers.
Franz launches the Centennial season
Watch and listen as Franz Welser-Möst launches the Orchestra’s 100th season!
Quietly America's Best
In January 2018, noting the Orchestra’s 100th anniversary, The New York Times claims that “The Cleveland Orchestra May [Quietly] Be America’s Best!” Click here to read the article.