Thousands expected to flock to Mall B for summer concert 'Spectacular'

Classical music doesn't exactly have a reputation for being accessible. Thoughts of your average symphony hall may conjure images of a well-dressed, older, "highbrow" crowd, the kind able to offer those pricey concert tickets.
For nearly three decades, The Cleveland Orchestra has been bucking high-falutin' stereotypes through its annual Star-Spangled Spectacular. Now in its 28th year, the free outdoor community concert draws folks of all ages and background downtown for a rousing — yet classy — night of artfully conducted music. The concert is traditionally staged on Public Square. In 2015, however, the event moved to Mall B, wherein concert-goers enjoyed the expansive space and dramatic views. Hence it will return to the classic public greenspace at  300 St. Clair Ave. this year. The Mall also accommodates the largest possible audience — a good thing considering the annual tradition attracts up to 80,000 attendees.
This year's concert, led by guest conductor Loras John Schissel, takes place on Friday, June 30, at 9 p.m. Sponsored by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) and KeyBank, the program features Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," just without the cannons. Patriotic favorites will be combined with several John Williams compositions created for the "Harry Potter" movies. Although organizers expected a turnout in the thousands, the performance will also be broadcast on 90.3 WCPN and WCLV Classical 104.9. Capping the night is a spectacular fireworks display.
CAC executive director Karen Gahl-Mills says live attendees have an opportunity to tap into the heartwarming camaraderie of multiple generations enjoying timeless music. Pre-concert activities include food trucks, allowing concertgoers to sit on the lawn for a music-flavored picnic.
"It's a chance to experience a cultural treasure without the formality of going to a concert hall," says Gahl-Mills. "That informality makes it more attractive and appealing to a lot of people."
CAC officials understand what a special attraction the Spectacular is for Cleveland. The grant-giving organization awarded the program $175,000 this year, a separate gift from the $1.5 million in general operating support it gave to the orchestra for 2017. Gahl-Mills says the fresh-air affair is a wonderful means of boosting a community's spirits.
"Right now we're craving ways to bridge divides, or have a chance to spend time with people and make a connection," Gahl-Mills says. "The arts are a great way to activate public spaces so people have these shared experiences."
Nor will music be the only artsy aspect of the evening. Prior to the show, Lake Erie Ink will present "Story Building in the Square" from 6 to 8 p.m. Supported by CAC with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Group Plan Commission, "Story Building" quite literally engages attendees in the act of building stories through the use of giant word blocks. Finished pieces are then written on chalkboards, inspiring Public Square passers-by to engage in the story themselves.
There's more creative fun to be had in the days leading up to the concert, notes Robert Rua, assistant marketing and communications director with Cuyahoga County Public Library. CCPL is hosting two family-friendly workshops that serve as an event preview, complete with appearances by orchestra musicians and a hands-on demonstrations of musical instruments.
At the pair of workshops — the first in Warrensville Heights and the other in Parma — children and families will march to "Stars and Stripes Forever," sing along to our national anthem, and go home with a special Cleveland Orchestra activity book.
"Kids can get see what it's like to hold a violin or other instrument," says Rua. "Exposing children to music is one thing, but having them meet music makers is an experience we like to deliver at the library when we can."
Both children and parents can benefit from concert-related music, book and movie recommendations. Your average muggle may get a jolt out of "Harry Potter," but Elmer Bernstein's "The Magnificent Seven" overture, also part of the concert playlist, can inspire older listeners to check out the 1960 John Sturges classic.
Which takes us back to the idea of arts and accessibility, a philosophy that Rua can gladly get behind.
"Everyone is welcome to our workshops," he says. "The concert is free and open to the public, too, and there's a feeling of inclusion that comes with that."

This story is made possible through a partnership with Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, which is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

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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