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
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Soundwave in Summer 2018!