September 22, 2016
Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D major is certainly a popular work — to date, The Cleveland Orchestra has performed the piece an impressive 152 times. Every music director in the Orchestra’s history has programmed it at least once. The symphony seems to have been a particular favorite for longtime conductor George Szell. In the span of just 19 years (between 1952 and 1970), he performed the work with The Cleveland Orchestra 53 times.
In 1965, at the invitation of the U.S. Department of State, Szell and the Orchestra went on an extensive tour of Europe — in fact, it was the longest tour that the Department of State had ever organized. During this trip, they performed in Helsinki at a festival celebrating the centenary of Sibelius’s birth. They gratified local pride by including Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony on their program.
Also while in Finland, Szell and a number of local dignitaries visited Ainola, Sibelius’s much-beloved home in the countryside.
Many guest conductors have also performed Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 with The Cleveland Orchestra. Among them are luminaries such as Thomas Beecham, Leonard Slatkin, Colin Davis, and Vladimir Ashkenazy. A piece of trivia: this symphony is the only work that has been conducted at The Cleveland Orchestra by both Neeme Järvi (at Blossom in 1990) and his son, Paavo Järvi (also at Blossom, in 2004).
The Cleveland Orchestra plays Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 for the 153rd and 154th times on September 29 and 30 at Severance Hall.
Sophie Benn is an intern this season with The Cleveland Orchestra Archives. She is a PhD student in musicology at Case Western Reserve University.
All photographs courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra Archives.