An Evening with the Cleveland Orchestra

Friday, 21 January 2011

On Thursday evening I had the opportunity to see the world-​renowned Cleveland Orchestra perform two works by Béla Bartók and a couple of bonus works by Japanese composers. The tickets were free on the condition that I write about my experience. It was Blogger’s Night. I had a great time the last time I had the opportunity to do something like this, with Opera Cleveland & their production of Falstaff, so I was anxious to get my first glimpse of Severance Hall & the Cleveland Orchestra in my 7 years living in Cleveland.

Concert Preview

I didn’t do a lot of homework on any of this before going, but I did see that there was a concert preview about 20 minutes before the concert preview started. My friend & I, braving the ridiculous weather, arrived just after the beginning, but I learned enough from the lecturer that I felt that I had something to hold on to and look for while listening to the music. I’m not a classical music aficionado by any stretch, so I’m hoping to use that ignorance as a strength in writing this. I felt that the concert preview was imperative for someone, like myself, who is unfamiliar with the music but wants to learn more about it. The preview was held in the Reinberger Chamber Hall at Severance Hall, a beautiful room filled with amazing woodwork.

The Performance

The actual performance began shortly after the preview ended. Our tickets were high up in the balcony, but when you’re listening to an orchestral performance, I don’t think where you sit is that important. What is important is that you’re actually in the venue when the performance starts. I had ducked out for a moment to get a quick drink and in the interim missed the beginning. Then I found out that you’re not allowed back in once the music has started. Thankfully a helpful usher led me to a very high door and snuck me in so I could see a great majority of Toshio Hosokawa’s Woven Dreams. Watching the orchestra was like looking at a slide under a microscope, lots of organic movement in concert.

The next piece, Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2, was (naturally) less dynamic to watch, instead the great acoustics of Severance Hall made it seem as if the music was welling out of the very air. This piece was my least favorite of the evening, although I don’t have any real reasons why that’s the case.

I really enjoyed the second half of the program. Toru Takemitsu’s Garden Rain was well named, each instrument in the heavily-​muted brass ensemble were raindrops in the shower. The evening finished with Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, which I was looking forward to for its Hungarian folk music influences. I was not disappointed. I know that Cleveland has a strong Hungarian immigrant population (I’d never heard of paprikash before I moved here), and it was kind of neat to know that the performance I heard was almost 75 years to the day that it was first performed.

A Suggestion

I think there were a couple hundred empty seats in Severance Hall for this performance, and that’s a shame, because every concert that the orchestra puts on deserves to be delivered to a packed house. I also noticed that the age of the crowd tended toward the far side of middle aged. I think it would be great if Severance Hall altered their ticket prices a bit to attract a younger crowd. The cheapest regular admission tickets are $31, which is cover to a rock show and a night of beers for a lot of my friends. Extending the student discount to anyone under 30 would be a great way to get a younger crowd (many of which I know would like to experience orchestral performances and learn more about art music (a term which I find very troublesome)) to fill the empty seats and build a younger base of concert-​goers for the future. I certainly know I would have gone to see the orchestra a few times in my 20s if I knew I could have picked up a ticket for $10 whenever a performance was upcoming.


I had a great time, enjoyed listening to and learning about the music, ogling the beauty of Severance Hall and seeing a side of Cleveland that was well-​renowned but unknown to me.