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Street Level

Five things you don't know about...the Cleveland Orchestra

Franz Welser-Möst leads The Cleveland Orchestra in Ravel’s captivating, magical Daphnis and Chloe

The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the world's premier orchestras, a purveyor of symphonic delights that's first on the lips of many a Clevelander when asked what they love most about the city. The orchestra's nearly century-long history contains a treasure trove of names, faces and facts perhaps unknown to the casual observer. Fresh Water is here to provide five quick hits about everyone's favorite classical ensemble.
 
1. The 2017 iteration of the Cleveland Orchestra has 102 members. Breaking it down by instrument, that's 33 violins, 11 violas, 11 cellos, nine basses, five horns, four flutes, four oboes, four clarinets, four bassoons, four trumpets, four trombones, two timpanis, two keyboards, one tuba and one sweet-playing harp.
 
2. The North Coast's world-class orchestra has unsurprisingly drawn a wealth of international talent to the city. Members hail from countries around the globe, including Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Romania, Russia and Taiwan. Six musicians were born or raised in Ohio: Lisa Boyko (viola), Wesley Collins (principal viola), Eliesha Nelson (viola), Alexandra Preucil (violin), Lyle Steelman (assistant principal trumpet) and Jeffrey Zehngut (violin).
 
3. The orchestra's first concert was a benefit at Gray's Armory for St. Ann's Parish on Dec. 11, 1918. Nikolai Sokoloff conducted the program, leading a group of musicians that went on to form the core of the permanent Cleveland Orchestra under the management of impresario Adella Prentiss Hughes and advocacy group Musical Arts Association.
 
4. Kiev native Sokoloff was the first of the ensemble's seven musical directors. Sokoloff's six successors were Artur Rodzinski (1933-43), Erich Leinsdorf (1943-46), George Szell (1946-70), Lorin Maazel (1972-82), Christoph von Dohnanyi (1984-2002) and Franz Welser-Most (2002-present). Robert Shaw served as associate conductor from 1956-67, doing double duty as director of the all-volunteer Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.
 
5. The orchestra and Severance Hall flow together like a finely crafted symphony, but the venerable concert spot wasn't the ensemble's first home. Programs were initially hosted in the Masonic Auditorium and later in the Public Auditorium and adjacent 2,800-seat Music Hall.
 
Severance Hall was erected in 1930 and 1931 from designs by architectural firm Walker & Weeks, with construction costs exceeding $2.6 million. Gifted by industrialist John L. Severance as a memorial to his wife, Elizabeth DeWitt Severance, the facility originally contained a 1,844-seat concert hall, a 400-seat chamber music hall on the ground floor and a radio broadcasting studio. In 1958, the stage was completely rebuilt, with a new acoustical shell to improve the projection of the orchestra's unparalleled sound.

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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