When Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered closure and limited capacities of public spaces back in March, the Cleveland Orchestra was also forced to stop performances at Severance Hall and Blossom Music Center.
But out of the silence has arisen a group of Cleveland Orchestra musicians who, starved of their usual creative outlet, this summer brought their talents outside the walls of their traditional performance venues.
The musicians, including violist and 29-year Orchestra member Lisa Boyko, sought to bring their music wherever it is welcome.
Musicians set up on George Carr’s front lawn as spectators watch from across the street.Throughout the warm months, Orchestra musicians—numbering as few as two or as many as seven—popped up all over Cleveland on residents’ front lawns, grocery stores, and other alternative venues throughout the city.
Organizers say the original intention was to fill the void of live music created by the pandemic, but it has evolved into a much more immersive experience for the listener.
The intimate concerts provide an opportunity to relax to the sounds of world class musicians, socialize (at a distance) with neighbors, and take a break from the stress of 2020.
“The city is starved for interpersonal experiences that make us human—a lot of which revolve around music or consumption of art forms,” says Boyko. “We’re taking our music to where people are.”
Many of the concerts are organized through Boyko, but others have also taken initiative. She simply asks people—be they friends or retail store owners—if they would be open to hosting some musicians to perform. Or Boyko herself hosts her fellow musicians.
For instance, on Sunday, Aug. 30, orchestra members assembled in Boyko’s Beachwood driveway. Seven musicians—five violinists, a double bassist, and a cellist—performed Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” a series of four violin concertos.
Neighbors wandered over to Boyko’s property before the musicians began playing. A few people brought blankets and chairs to sit on the tree lawn and in the yard. Some people brought kids; others passed out bottles of water.
The vibe is quite different than inside Severance Hall.
Beyond the obvious—being outside, dressing casually and the price of admission—the experience is much more intimate. Kids run around and dogs are barking. And the event is BYOB.
On this night, about 30 neighbors showed up for the start of the show. The only indication that something was happening was a small sign reading “Cleveland Orchestra” and a few balloons at the end of the driveway.
Between each concerto, Boyko reads a poem and explains the emotions the next piece is meant to evoke (each concerto is made up of three movements).
Each movement is meant to convey a feeling. For example, the first two movements of “Autumn” try to convey the joy of a bountiful harvest from the point of view of a poor village. They celebrate with liquor and dancing, and by the end of each movement the villagers fall asleep.
Of course, these concertos were written in 1723, so the context of some of these emotions is not always relatable. But the energy of the music remains the same, and it is easy to tell by listening what emotion is being conveyed.
The third and final movement of “Autumn” depicts the hunters of the village waking up early to kill an animal for the village in further preparation for winter.
On this suburban lawn the audience has a chance to quietly talk to their families about what they like about the music in real time, as opposed to the rule of silence in Severance Hall.
After the concert, audience members have a chance to go speak with the musicians.
This experience paints a better picture of exactly what goes into performing a piece like this from the point of view of the musician. It also allows the musicians to talk about who they are.
“The way we’ve been performing because of the pandemic has, I think, broken down the intimidation factor of classical music,” says Boyko.
Others saw these summer concerts as an opportunity to share their love of the Orchestra.
On August 23, Beachwood resident and attorney George Carr also hosted three Orchestra musicians at his house for an evening of music.
“My parents used to take me to Severance Hall, and I’ve taken my kids to Severance Hall for concerts,” explains Carr. “I also studied music in college so I’m no stranger. But the sentiment I got from my neighbors was that this concert had opened the classical door for many of them—and we probably had about 40 people show up with others coming and going. [They were] all in masks of course.”
Musicians of The Cleveland Orchestra create Beethoven 9 Project, a video filmed throughout Greater ClevelandThe Orchestra hasn’t only begun to emerge from Severance Hall because of the pandemic. Their “At-Home” residency program, started in 2013, has brought pop-up concerts to a different community every year until now. But their roots in the community go back to its birth as a touring regional orchestra, performing free concerts all over Cleveland. Those roots continue to grow, despite the crazy challenges with which the Orchestra is now faced.
While these pop-up concerts have certainly made an impact during the pandemic, the Orchestra is also taking advantage of technological advances to help share the music.
Several new online programs have emerged, like “IN-FOCUS,” a paid subscription series of concerts at Severance Hall that anyone with internet access can stream. The first of these—“Inspirations” featuring works by Respighi, George Walker, and Tchaikovsky—is Thursday, October 15 at 7 p.m. and can be accessed through the Orchestra’s free Adella app, which is scheduled to come out before the first performance.
Many other free videos are available through the Orchestra’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
The Orchestra has also created free podcast called “On a Personal Note,” which is a series of stories told through words and music.
Additionally, the Cleveland Orchestra released an album last June, “A New Century,” as well as a series of classic recordings spanning back six decades, also available to stream free on its website. And the recording release of "Schubert & Krenek" is dropping this Friday. Oct. 2.
Aside from the streaming concerts this fall, the Cleveland Orchestra’s spring schedule remains tentative.