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
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
FIRST NYC CONCERT
First INTERNATIONAL TOUR
First CARNEGIE HALL CONCERT
First RADIO BROADCAST
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
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
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
A tour of SEVERANCE HALL
Artur Rodzinski SECOND MUSIC DIRECTOR
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.
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 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
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
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
First EUROPEAN TOUR
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
OUR TIME HAS COME
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
A RARE MOMENT
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
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
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
First Tour to Asia
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
Lorin Maazel Appointed Music Director
Music and More in Australia
First Direct-to-Disc Recording
First MLK Concert
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
Christoph Von Dohnányi Begins His Tenure
Dohnányi Talks With Klaus Roy
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 Orchestra Celebrates 75 years
Time Magazine Rankings
Going For The Gold
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
The Restored Organ
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
appointed 7th Music Director
First American Orchestra To Have Musikverein Residency
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
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
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.
Centennial season comes to a close
The Cleveland Orchestra ended its centennial season with gratitude and in celebration of its first 100 years