The Cleveland Orchestra presents groundbreaking opera in May 2020 as the centerpiece of Censored: Art & Power, a festival of events and performances surrounding concerts to give context and commentary to political censorship

Renowned singer-actress Barbara Hannigan stars in Alban Berg's opera Lulu portraying a femme fatale’s harrowing life of politics, sex, and betrayal
The Cleveland Orchestra is partnering with local education and cultural institutions to explore censorship and weaponization of the arts by Nazi Germany
Two additional Orchestra concerts present other musical genres from the 1930s, representing repressed and forbidden styles
New events, dates, performers, details of partnership presentations by:

  • Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Cleveland Institute of Art
  • Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque
  • Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage
  • Facing History and Ourselves

CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Orchestra announces updates to its festival, Censored: Art & Power, taking place in spring 2020.  The festival is centered around the Orchestra’s performances of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu on May 16, 19, and 22, 2020, and seeks to spark discussion about the role of art in society, government censorship, and prejudice — using as a starting point Nazi Germany’s oppression and weaponization of the arts by labelling groups and styles “Degenerate Art & Music.” As a central theme within the Orchestra’s 2019-20 season, the festival features a variety of collaborative presentations surrounding the opera performances.

“This period, in the early to mid-20th century when Berg’s Lulu was composed, was a time of autocratic, authoritarian regimes who condemned artistic expression outside of their narrow view,” said Franz Welser-Möst, Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra.  “And they often did so with a heavy hand.  Artists and their work were prohibited through censorship.  Some artwork was destroyed, and entire careers and so many creative lives lost.  With the Censored: Art & Power festival, we will look into how music and art can be abused by a system, just as the character of Lulu is abused and abusive in her own way in the opera.  Because a system can turn people on one another.”

“And I believe these are important topics, not only from the past but in today’s world,” continues Welser-Möst.  “We see this happening still in our own time.  Art is a direct reflection of human society. When you stifle art, you are limiting how people can learn from interacting with one another, how you can understand those around you through art and creativity.”

“The Cleveland Orchestra's festival this season, titled Censored: Art & Power, came out of our desire to demystify Alban Berg’s opera Lulu, which had been stigmatized from the moment it was written,” says Mark Williams, Chief Artistic Officer of The Cleveland Orchestra. “Lulu was created at a time in history when political forces were against the composer, the work’s musical style, and the subject matter, so that it was banned before its premiere. It was not performed in Berg's lifetime, and only later recognized as a true 20th-century masterpiece. Today, we have the opportunity not only to perform this influential work, but also to give audiences a sense of the times surrounding the work’s creation that lead to its banning.  It is moving music and a compelling story, but we also knew that it would be meaningful to create context around it, and that was the birth of Censored: Art & Power. We will explore how art and power are connected, how art can be used for political purposes, how art and censorship can be used, not only to control artists, but to control the public who is consuming the art.”

February Updates and additions to the Censored: Art & Power festival:

The Cleveland Museum of Art will host a gallery talk on Tuesday, May 5, at 12:00 p.m., led by curatorial assistant June De Phillips and concentrating on innovative German artists of the 20th century on view in CMA’s German Expressionism & Surrealism Gallery (Gallery 225), including Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gabriele Münter, and others whose work the Nazi regime removed from public art collections and featured in Germany’s 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition. Ticket required. Space is limited. For more information visit

Cleveland Institute of Art students, with guidance from Cleveland Orchestra staff, will work on an illustration project based on the prompt “censorship in the 21st century.” Their final artwork will be displayed from May 15 until May 23 at Severance Hall side-by-side with prints of censored work from around the time that Lulu was composed.

A series of collaborative lectures, readings, and musical performances will be hosted by Beachwood’s Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage: On Wednesday, May 13, at 7:00 p.m., Cleveland State University Professor Mark Cole will give a lecture entitled Degenerate Art: Power & Censorship in Nazi Germany; on Wednesday, May 20, at 7:00 p.m., the museum will present a performance featuring the music of banned composers (details to be announced); on Wednesday, May 27, at 7:00 p.m., Interplay Jewish Theatre presents a staged reading of Lauren Gunderson’s play, Bauer, about persecuted painter and printmaker Rudolf Bauer; and on Wednesday, July 15, at 7:00 p.m., Eric Kisch, host of Musical Passions on WCLV Classical 104.9, will explore some representative “degenerate” composers and celebrate their contributions to classical music. For ticket information visit or call 216-593-0575.

Cleveland Orchestra Guest Artist updates: As part of Aaron Diehl’s trio, bassist Paul Sikvie and drummer Greg Hutchinson will both make their Cleveland Orchestra debuts at Severance Hall in a program entitled Jazz Suite on May 15 at 8:00 p.m. Bass Sergei Leiferkus will make his Cleveland Orchestra debut in the role of Schigolch in Alban Berg’s Lulu May 16, 19, and 22.

On Sunday, May 17 at 1:30 p.m. and Tuesday, May 19 at 1:30 p.m., the Cleveland Museum of Art will screen Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Never Look Away, a 2019 Academy Award-nominated film based on the life and work of German painter Gerhard Richter, who was haunted by early brushes with Nazism and Communism. Special admission $11; CMA members $8. For more information visit

On Thursday, May 21 at 6:45 p.m., the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque will show G.W. Pabst’s 1929 German film Pandora’s Box, which was inspired by the same plays in Frank Wedekind’s “Lulu” cycle that Berg adapted for the libretto of his opera. Special admission $12; Cinematheque members and those age 25 & under $9. For more information visit

Facing History and Ourselves will share a reading and resource list influenced by the themes of Censored: Art & Power which will be promoted and provided to educators throughout Ohio and the Midwest and be available globally on their website,

Additional details of The Cleveland Orchestra performances and events are in the calendar listing section below.

During the festival in May 2020, The Cleveland Orchestra and Music Director Franz Welser-Möst will focus on the opera Lulu, which German composer Alban Berg wrote during the Nazi rise to power in the early 1930s. Looking at both the abusive and oppressive subject matter of the opera itself and how government censorship halted the work’s premiere, Censored: Art & Power is designed to explore the ways in which music and composers during this era were damaged by prejudice, propaganda, political control, and hate that surrounded what became known as the Degenerate Art & Music propaganda movement instigated across Germany in the decade before the Second World War. In addition to banning artworks, musical performances, and literature that didn’t conform to the Third Reich’s idea of classical beauty, the Nazi Party held a series of widely-attended public exhibitions providing examples of art and music it believed was harmful or decadent — due to what they considered to be Jewish, Communist, African American, Modernist, and other minority influences.

“One of the highlights of this season is the opera Lulu,” says Cleveland Orchestra Music Director Franz Welser-Möst. “It is an intense and challenging work both musically and in its subject matter. Yet this kind of programming is successful in Cleveland because we have such an extraordinary, adventurous, and open audience. With the festival we are creating around Lulu, we will look at the relationship of art and politics in Berg’s lifetime — of how certain music in the 1920s and ‘30s was politically abandoned and prohibited. We are featuring works by [Erwin] Schulhoff, [Ernst] Krenek, and others — works that the Nazis labeled ‘Entartete Musik’ or Degenerate Music.”

“We live in a time where angst is more and more a part of everyday life all over the world,” continues Welser-Möst.  “One of the key elements of political populism is that there must always be a scapegoat — there is always someone, a group of people, or an idea to blame.  And, for instance, Berg’s score to Lulu includes jazz elements — and jazz at the time of the 1920s and ’30s was often not accepted as “real” art.  Jazz musicians, black musicians, and minority composers were too often viewed as not having any value for society. Ultimately, with this festival, what we are doing is looking at great music, at great art, which was marginalized by the Nazis and others for all the wrong reasons.  Art can liberate the mind.  Creativity should not be stifled.”

Festival Features Various Composers and Collaborations with Local Arts Organizations

A week-long series of concerts at Severance Hall will showcase Berg’s Lulu alongside other pieces, primarily from the 1920s and ‘30s, including compositions by Mary Lou Williams, Bohuslav Martinů, George Antheil, Krenek, and Schulhoff. The festival also features a piece commissioned by The Cleveland Orchestra in 1944 from American composer William Grant Still. Although Censored: Art & Power will expose audience members to banned works from an earlier time, the performances are intended to inspire introspection and discussion about the role music and art can play in contemporary society.

For this festival, The Cleveland Orchestra is collaborating with distinguished arts organizations across Northeast Ohio, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, Facing History & Ourselves and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage to co-present associated events, film screenings, and education programs. These partnerships will form a citywide festival to inspire reflection and dialogue around Degenerate Art & Music and the effects of weaponizing art today. The events will illustrate how artists and their work were affected by stringent political control, prejudice, and propaganda during the years around the Second World War and to what extent these conditions continue to exist in present-day society. Additional details about these projects, events, programs, and exhibitions will be announced leading up to the festival.

The Cleveland Orchestra is grateful for the ongoing support of these government-related funding agencies: National Endowment for the Arts, State of Ohio and Ohio Arts Council, and the residents of Cuyahoga County through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.


Friday, May 15, 2020 at 8:00 p.m.

The Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Aaron Diehl, piano – Severance Hall debut
Conrad Tao, piano – Severance Hall debut
Paul Sikivie, bass – Cleveland Orchestra debut
Greg Hutchinson, drums – Cleveland Orchestra debut

MARTINŮ  Jazz Suite – Cleveland Orchestra premiere
MARY LOU WILLIAMS  Selections from Zodiac Suite
LIGETI  Selected Études
ANTHEIL  Ballet mécanique (with film) – Cleveland Orchestra premiere

In Germany during the 1930s and ‘40s, jazz music and musicians who championed the art form were subject to prejudice and intolerance. Theprogram focuses on works by jazz composers or works influenced by jazz, including selections from Mary Lou Williams’s Zodiac Suite (1945), additional solo jazz and classical works with pianist Aaron Diehl,Martinů’s Jazz Suite (1928), and a performance of the music and film Ballet mécanique, composed by American George Antheil (1923-24). The corresponding Dadaist and semi-abstract art film was created by Fernand Léger in collaboration with moviemaker Dudley Murphy with cinematographic input from Man Ray.

Saturday, May 16, 2020 at 8:00 p.m.
Tuesday, May 19, 2020 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 22, 2020 at 8:00 p.m.

The Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Barbara Hannigan, soprano (Lulu)
Rainer Trost, tenor (Painter) — Cleveland Orchestra debut
Bo Skovhus, baritone (Dr. Schön)
Norbert Ernst, tenor (Alwa)
Sergei Leiferkus, bass (Schigolch) — Cleveland Orchestra debut
Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano (Geschwitz)

BERG  Lulu (two-act version, opera in concert) — Cleveland Orchestra premiere

Opera presentation sung in German with projected supertitles.

Berg’s ground-breaking opera Lulu is based on two German Realist plays. Its controversial storyline about victimization and oppression centers on the title character of Lulu: a Viennese woman whose life runs a dramatic course through marriage, adultery, incest, violence, destitution, prostitution, fame, and murder. (The plays’ author, Frank Wedekind, also wrote Spring Awakening, which was turned into a successful, but controversial, Broadway musical about teenage angst in 2006.) Following Hitler’s rise to power, Berg was scrutinized by the Nazi Party for studying with Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg and for his use of twelve-tone serialism technique. After working on Lulu for six years, he learned that a production of the opera’s first two acts could not be presented in Germany due to the country’s cultural and political climate. Instead, it premiered in Switzerland in June 1937.

This will be The Cleveland Orchestra’s first time presenting Lulu, with a cast featuring acclaimed international vocalists: soprano Barbara Hannigan (Lulu), tenor Rainer Trost (Painter) in his Cleveland Orchestra debut, baritone Bo Skovhus (Dr. Schön), tenor Norbert Ernst (Alwa), bass Sergei Leiferkus (Schigolch) in his Cleveland Orchestra debut, and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano (Countess Geschwitz). Between 1929 and 1935, Berg completed the first two acts of Lulu, one of the most influential operas of the 20th century. Based on the plays Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box by Frank Wedekind, the story vividly illustrates Lulu’s tumultuous and entangled relationships with her admirers, including her physician husband, a painter, her lover Dr. Schön, an old man named Schigolch, Countess Geschwitz, and Dr. Schön’s son Alwa.

This opera presentation is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

Saturday, May 23, 2020 at 8:00 p.m.

The Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Audrey Luna, soprano

STILL  Poem for Orchestra
KRENEK  Die Nachtigall [The Nightingale] — Cleveland Orchestra premiere
SCHULHOFF  Symphony No. 5 — Cleveland Orchestra premiere

The arrangement of works draw connections to “Degenerate Music” through the lens of racial, ethnic, and religious persecution. William Grant Still, considered the dean of African-American composers, wrote his Poem for Orchestra in 1944 on a commission by The Cleveland Orchestra from the Kulas American Composers fund. Still’s wife, Verna Arvey, said it was “inspired by the concept of a world being reborn spiritually after a period of darkness and desolation.’’ Czech composer Ernst Krenek’s Die Nachtigall (1931), which includes text of Karl Kraus’s poem by the same name, will be performed by The Cleveland Orchestra for the first time with soprano Audrey Luna.  Also to be performed by The Cleveland Orchestra for the first time is Erwin Schulhoff’s Symphony No. 5 (1938-39). Of Czech and Jewish heritage, Schulhoff’s Symphony No. 5 has been called “. . . a full palette of musical passages suggesting tension and forebodings, and, in keeping with the aesthetic of socialist realism, an overriding sense of hope for the future.”

The Cleveland Orchestra thanks concert sponsor Medical Mutual for their generous support.