Long considered one of America's great orchestras, The Cleveland Orchestra (= TCO) stands today among the world's most-revered symphonic ensembles. Whether in concerts at home in Severance Hall, at Blossom, on tour, in radio and television broadcasts, or in its critically-admired discography, TCO continues to set standards of performing excellence and imaginative programming that serve as models for audiences and performers alike.
Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst began his tenure as the seventh Music Director of TCO in September 2002. He first conducted TCO in 1993, and returned to Severance Hall as a guest conductor on a regular basis, leading the ensemble in more than 70 concerts.
TCO was founded in 1918 under the direction of Ukranian-American conductor Nikolai Sokoloff, who initiated an extensive domestic touring schedule, education concerts, commercial recordings, and radio broadcasts. TCO performed concerts at Grays Armory during its first season, after which it moved to Cleveland's Masonic Auditorium. In 1931, TCO moved to its new permanent home, Severance Hall, in Cleveland's University Circle area. This magnificent facility was primarily the gift of John Long Severance (Musical Arts Association President, 1921-1936) and his wife, Elisabeth Dewitt Severance, to the people of Cleveland, who provided generously for the Hallís endowment. It also became a memorial to John Long Severance, who died just before the new hallís groundbreaking. Severance Hall was among the first concert halls in America designed and built with radio broadcasting capability.
Artur Rodzinski served as Music Director from 1933 to 1943. Highlights of his decade in Cleveland included the presentation of 15 fully-staged operas at Severance Hall, increased radio broadcasts, and a renewed recording schedule (after a hiatus during the Depression).
Erich Leinsdorf served as Music Director from 1943 to 1946. Due to his service in the United States Armed Forces during World War II, much of his directorship was in absentia. During this time, guest conductors filled the podium frequently, one of whom was a Central European conductor named George Szell.
Under George Szell, named Music Director in 1946, TCO entered a new period of dramatic and sustained growth. Both the number of Orchestra members and the length of the season were increased, international tours were inaugurated, the recording schedule increased, and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus was established (Robert Shaw was engaged to direct the group). In 1968, the opening of Blossom Music Center on an 800-acre site halfway between Cleveland and Akron made possible the expansion to a year-round season.
Pierre Boulez began his association with TCO in 1965; after Szell's death in 1970, Pierre Boulez served as Principal Guest Conductor and Musical Advisor until 1972. Lorin Maazel began a decade as Music Director with the 1972-1973 season. He continued TCO's international touring and recording schedule, while broadening the ensemble's repertoire with more 20th-century compositions.
Christoph von Dohnányi's tenure as TCO's sixth Music Director (1984 to 2002) included a distinguished series of concerts at home in Cleveland each year. In addition, the Orchestra and Christoph von Dohnányi made frequent domestic and international concert tours, including regular return engagements at Austria's prestigious Salzburg Festival.
Adding to TCO discographies of earlier music directors, Christoph von Dohnányi created an extensive discography of digital recordings with The Cleveland Orchestra, including the complete symphonies of L.v. Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, and Schumann; symphonies by Berlioz, Bruckner, Dvorák, Gustav Mahler, Mozart, Schubert, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky; music of Béla Bartók, Lutoslawski, Charles Ives, Smetana, Anton Webern, and Varèse; and the first two operas in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. A series of discs with TCO has been recorded in recent years under the direction of Pierre Boulez (Deutsche Grammophon and Philips), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca), and Oliver Knussen (Argo and Deutsche Grammophon).
Christoph von Dohnányi oversaw Severance Hall's $36-million renovation and restoration project, which included the construction of a new concert stage, the refurbishment and re-location of the Hallís original E.M. Skinner Organ (the Norton Memorial Organ), expanded backstage support facilities, enhanced technical capabilities, and increased patron amenities. Christoph von Dohnányi became Music Director Laureate of TCO in September 2002, following the end of his tenure as Music Director.
Franz Welser-Möst's appointment as Music Director, announced in June 1999, provided for a seamless transition in the artistic leadership of TCO with the 2002-2003 season. At home in Severance Hall, TCO begins a new era under Welser-Möst's guidance, while maintaining a steadfast commitment to its long-held traditions of artistic excellence, educational outreach, and community service.