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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Field Trip: The Severance Package

A visit to the home of the Cleveland Orchestra.
Severance Hall at dusk, from the corner of Euclid Avenue and East Blvd, Cleveland OH.
Photo by the author.
In the interest of expanding my horizons and hearing some really good music this weekend, I took the Greyhound out to Cleveland, OH. The purpose: to attend two concerts at Severance Hall, the legendary home of the Cleveland Orchestra and hear this great band on its home turf.

Severance Hall on Sunday afternoon, set up for a choral performance.
Photo by the author.
When talking about great American orchestras, those unfamiliar with the reputation of this extraordinary ensemble are surprised to hear this Midwest city's orchestra ranked alongside the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, even the legendary Philharmonics of Vienna and Berlin. The Cleveland players are a first-class organization, and their home, Severance Hall is one of the finest music venues in North America, if not the world.
Egyptian moifs and red marble dominate the main lobby of Severance Hall,
which is available for weddings. Photo by the author.
Built in 1929 and opened in 1931, Severance (named after the deceased wife of John Severance, who put up the initial multi-million dollar stake for the venue) replaced the Masonic Hall downtown as the main venue of the Cleveland Orchestra.

The building has been renovated, but remains a miracle of Depression-era engineering, a sturdy temple of music picked out in Egyptian motifs. It sits on the western edge of the Case Western Reserve university campus. This relatively isolated location (five miles east of downtown Cleveland) emphasizes the vibe: like a performance at a nobleman's house or a European festival. Wagner would have loved it.
The Szell Shell (above the organ) modifies and brightens the acoustics.
Note the aluminum trim. Photo by the author.
The concert hall itself is picked out in beige, dark wood and aluminum, a new-fangled material in those days. The aluminum filigree on the ceiling and the walls lends a soft, burnished glow as the Orchestra plays. A second venue: Rheinberger Hall is tucked underneath, and is used for chamber music and recording sessions

The organ (left) the timpani, with the ornamental pipes.
They look cool, though. Photo by the author.
In the Hall, organ pipes lend a touch of solemnity to the decor. However, the visible pipes are ornamental, closed off by the special acoustic concert shell added to the venue under music director George Szell. The stage also expands via an old-school elevator system for performances of large-scale works. The elevator can also be lowered to form an orchestra pit, allowing opera to be performed.
Aluminum trim, beige paint, blue seats.
Severance Hall from down in the orchestra seats.
Photo by the author.
Comfortable, blue velour seats and polished, red marble lobby give a feeling of Old World elegance. But the real draw here is the acoustic, crisp, yet warm, capturing the roar of brass or the plaintive tone of bassoons. 

Read the reviews of this weekend's concerts under music director Franz Welser-Möst: 

And then consider a trip out to Cleveland for the real hall of fame where music lives: the amazing Severance Hall.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats