By John Benson
Now that summer is finally here, there’s a sound of music emanating from the hills that can only be the Cleveland Orchestra moving its operation from Severance Hall to Blossom Music Center, which is situated on 800 acres of rolling hills adjacent to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
“It’s just the ambiance and the sheer beauty of the venue,” said Ross Binnie, Cleveland Orchestra marketing chief. “I was stunned the first time I went there because of the beauty of it and the sound of the Cleveland Orchestra playing outside is fantastic.
“It’s much more accessible than hearing it in indoor venues where it’s a little more serious. Audiences can just relax, have a picnic and enjoy. It’s really one of the most beautiful views and outdoor venues you can imagine.”
The Blossom Music Festival features a plethora of concerts that range from serious classical works to more playful pop performances. Highlights of the season include the return of conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, a performance of Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and “Family Funfest at Blossom” featuring the Blossom Festival Orchestra performing tunes from “The Little Mermaid,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Frozen” and other movie favorites.
When pressed for the performances he’s most looking forward to seeing, Binnie suggested two which actually bookend the Blossom Music Festival season. The first of which is the July 5 show featuring The Cleveland Orchestra with conductor Jaap van Zweden performing Dvorak’s “New World.”
“It’s a lot of good programming from an artistic point of view with Dvorak’s ‘New World,’ one of the great pieces of music for a big orchestra,” Binnie said. “And, it’s appropriate. Dvorak wrote it when he came to America. On the July 4 weekend, that’s a great program to kick off the season.
“We also on that program will have Renaud Capu ßon playing violin on the ‘Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, which is a terrific, exciting piece of music.”
The other show of note finds Music Director Franz Welser-M ∂st conducting Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 and No. 4. This is the Cleveland Orchestra’s final program of the season (Aug. 31) before heading overseas for the European festival season.
“Brahms is just great musically for everybody,” Binnie said. “And don’t forget about Yo-Yo Ma as soloist in the Elgar Cello Concerto (Aug. 16). That’s a rare one-off and will be huge.”
As far as the pop vein is concerned, Binnie said the Cleveland Orchestra started a mini-tradition of sorts last year performing the music of Simon & Garfunkel. In 2014, the Orchestra will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ U.S. arrival when it’s joined by tribute band Classical Mystery Tour to perform the original orchestrations of “Penny Lane,” “Yesterday,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “With a Little Help From My Friends” and more.
Also, even though it’s not technically part of the Blossom Festival, for many Northeast Ohioans, the Cleveland Orchestra’s Star-Spangled Spectacular in downtown Cleveland July 2 on Public Square does kick off the summer.
This year’s 25th annual free concert, under the direction of Loras John Schissel, includes the “Star Spangled Banner,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” as well as culminates with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and fireworks display (weather permitting).
Regarding the popularity of the Blossom Music Festival, Binnie said interest is “growing by leaps and bounds.” Not only is the Orchestra’s “Under 18s Free” program – where young people 17 and under get a free ticket – a success, but attendance in general has been going up.
“I think it’s the range of performances,” Binnie said. “I really do believe we try to provide something for everybody. So whether you’re into the most artistic series classical programs or whether you want lite pops, we have it all.”
For more information about all Blossom Music Festival shows, call 216-231-1111 or go to clevelandorchestra.com.