Mission & History
The Cleveland Orchestra inspires and enriches lives by creating extraordinary musical experiences at the highest level of artistic excellence.
The Cleveland Orchestra is today hailed as one of the very best orchestras on the planet, noted for its musical excellence and for its devotion and service to the community it calls home.
The 2020-21 season marks the ensemble’s nineteenth year under the direction of Franz Welser-Möst, one of today’s most acclaimed musical leaders. Working together, the Orchestra and its board of trustees, staff, and volunteers have affirmed a set of community-inspired goals for the 21st century — to continue the Orchestra’s legendary command of musical excellence while focusing new efforts and resources toward fully serving its hometown community throughout Northeast Ohio. The promise of continuing extraordinary concert experiences, engaging music education programs, and innovative technologies offers future generations dynamic access to the best symphonic entertainment possible anywhere.
The Cleveland Orchestra divides its time across concert seasons at home — in Cleveland’s Severance Hall and each summer at Blossom Music Center. Additional portions of the year are devoted to touring and intensive performance residencies. These include recurring residencies at Vienna’s Musikverein, and regular appearances at across Europe, in New York, at Indiana University, and in Miami, Florida.
The Cleveland Orchestra has long been committed to the pursuit of excellence in everything that it does. Its ongoing collaboration with Welser-Möst is widely-acknowledged among the best orchestra-conductor partnerships of today. Performances of standard repertoire and new works are unrivalled at home and on tour across the globe, and through recordings and broadcasts. The Orchestra’s longstanding championing of new composers and the commissioning of new works helps audiences experience music as a living language that grows with each new generation. Fruitful juxtapositions and re-examinations of classics, new recording projects and tours of varying repertoire and in different locations, and acclaimed collaborations in 20th- and 21st-century masterworks together enable The Cleveland Orchestra the ability to give musical performances second to none in the world.
Serving the Community
Programs for students and engaging musical explorations for the community are core to the Orchestra’s mission, fueled by a commitment to serving Cleveland and surrounding communities. All are being created to connect people to music in the concert hall, in classrooms, and in everyday lives. Recent seasons have seen the launch of a unique series of neighborhood initiatives and performances, designed to bring the Orchestra and the citizens of Northeast Ohio together in new ways. Active performance ensembles and teaching programs provide proof of the benefits of direct participation in making music for people of all ages.
Standing on the shoulders of more than a century of quality music education programs, the Orchestra made national and international headlines through the creation of its Center for Future Audiences in 2010. Established with a significant endowment gift from the Maltz Family Foundation, the Center is designed to provide ongoing funding for the Orchestra’s continuing work to develop interest in classical music among young people. The flagship “Under 18s Free” program has seen unparalleled success in increasing attendance — with 20% of attendees now comprised of concertgoers age 25 and under — as the Orchestra now boasts one of the youngest audiences for symphonic concerts anywhere.
The Cleveland Orchestra was among the first American orchestras heard on a regular series of radio broadcasts, and its Severance Hall home was one of the first concert halls in the world built with recording and broadcasting capabilities. Today, Cleveland Orchestra concerts are presented in a variety of formats for a variety of audiences — including casual Friday night concerts, film scores performed live by the Orchestra, collaborations with pop and jazz singers, ballet and opera presentations, and standard repertoire juxtaposed in meaningful contexts with new and older works. Franz Welser-Möst’s creative vision has given the Orchestra an unequaled opportunity to explore music as a universal language of communication and understanding.
An Enduring Tradition of Community Support
The Cleveland Orchestra was born in Cleveland, created by a group of visionary citizens who believed in the power of music and aspired to having the best performances of great orchestral music possible anywhere. Generations of Clevelanders have supported this vision and enjoyed the Orchestra’s performances as some of the best such concert experiences available in the world. Hundreds of thousands have learned to love music through its education programs and have celebrated important events with its music. While strong ticket sales cover less than half of each season’s costs, the generosity of thousands each year drives the Orchestra forward and sustains its extraordinary tradition of excellence onstage, in the classroom, and for the community.
The Cleveland Orchestra was founded in 1918. Over the ensuing decades, the ensemble quickly grew from a fine regional organization to being one of the most admired symphony orchestras in the world. Seven music directors have guided and shaped the ensemble’s growth and sound: Nikolai Sokoloff, 1918-33; Artur Rodzinski, 1933-43; Erich Leinsdorf, 1943-46; George Szell, 1946-70; Lorin Maazel, 1972-82; Christoph von Dohnányi, 1984-2002; and Franz Welser-Möst, since 2002.
The opening in 1931 of Severance Hall as the Orchestra’s permanent home brought a special pride to the ensemble and its hometown. With acoustic refinements under Szell’s guidance and a building-wide restoration and expansion in 1998-2000, Severance Hall continues to provide the Orchestra an enviable and intimate acoustic environment in which to perfect the ensemble’s artistry. Touring performances throughout the United States and, beginning in 1957, to Europe and across the globe have confirmed Cleveland’s place among the world’s top orchestras. Year-round performances became a reality in 1968 with the opening of Blossom Music Center.
Today, concert performances, community presentations, touring residencies, broadcasts, and recordings provide access to the Orchestra’s acclaimed artistry to an enthusiastic, generous, and broad constituency at home throughout Northeast Ohio and around the world.