As Tuesday Musical Association celebrates a 125-year tradition of musical excellence, the organization looks forward to another longstanding tradition — presenting the Cleveland Orchestra in its signature annual concert Tuesday night at E.J. Thomas Hall.
Tuesday Musical’s 93-year relationship with the renowned Cleveland Orchestra is the longest musical partnership the Akron cultural organization has enjoyed, stemming from the orchestra’s first performance at the Akron Armory on April 13, 1919. It was the Cleveland Orchestra’s first season, and the program included pieces by Rossini, Liszt, Schubert, Bizet, Dvorak, Massenet and Elgar.
“It was brand new,” said Gary Hanson, executive director of the orchestra. “It was less than six months after the orchestra first played in Cleveland.”
In those early days, the fledgling Cleveland Orchestra played multiple times in Akron each year as it worked to become established under conductor Nikolai Sokoloff. The orchestra has played 121 times for Tuesday Musical, under the baton of all seven music directors as well as scores of guest conductors.
“Akron has been an important part of the Cleveland Orchestra’s audience from the beginning,” Hanson said.
According to orchestra records, the 1989-90 season was the only year that the Cleveland Orchestra did not perform in Akron since the orchestra’s inaugural season. The reason for the gap is unclear but both Tuesday Musical Executive Director Barbara Feld and Hanson are confident the longstanding partnership will continue.
“It’s an important part of our annual schedule,” Hanson said. “It’s a tradition that we hope and expect will continue well into the Cleveland Orchestra’s second century.”
The Cleveland Orchestra will celebrate its centennial in 2018. Tuesday Musical was founded in 1887.
Performing for Tuesday Musical also provides a winter venue for the Cleveland Orchestra to play in Summit County when the outdoor Blossom Music Center is closed.
“It’s important [to play in Akron] because of the audience in Summit County that is devoted to the Cleveland Orchestra and supports the orchestra significantly in the summertime at Blossom,” Hanson said.
On Tuesday in Akron, music director Franz Welser-Moest will conduct the orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10.
The Cleveland Orchestra performed its last Tuesday Musical concert at the Akron Armory in 1971 before switching to the Akron Civic Theatre for two years and then playing at E.J. Thomas Hall since 1973, the year the hall opened.
The armory was a huge, multipurpose facility, “so you would go and see the circus one night and then hear the Cleveland Orchestra and still smell the elephants from the night before,” Feld said.
Soprano Jean Blair, an Akron native who has been a member of Tuesday Musical for more than 50 years, remembers fondly her early years hearing the Cleveland Orchestra perform at the Akron Armory in the 1940s. She was 16 when she and her twin sister, Joan Harrah of Dayton, began serving as volunteer ushers at the Tuesday Musical Akron Armory performances.
The 84-year-old, who served as an adjunct professor of voice at the University of Akron for 41 years before retiring in June, said her mother, Elizabeth Wilkinson, was an active member of Tuesday Musical.
The only other “superior” orchestra the young Blair had to compare with the Cleveland Orchestra was the New York Philharmonic on the radio every Sunday afternoon.
“To me, there’s nothing like a live performance,” she said. “Every time they [the Cleveland Orchestra] were in Akron, I wouldn’t miss them.”
Many Akron music lovers like Blair are unwilling or unable to make the drive to Severance Hall to hear the Cleveland Orchestra perform at its home, she said. It is a point of pride that Tuesday Musical enables Akron audiences to hear the world-class ensemble in their own backyard.
“It’s my only opportunity to really see them and it’s a gift to Akron from Tuesday Musical, because we’re the only ones who bring them here,” Blair said.
Feld, who began working for Tuesday Musical in 1989, said in the early days, Tuesday Musical scheduled the orchestra for multiple performances in a concert season as finances allowed. The orchestra played four times in Akron in 1943.
According to Tuesday Musical lore, the first time the cultural organization presented the Cleveland Orchestra, it paid either $500 or $1,000. Now, the price is a five-figure number.
“It costs a whole lot but not nearly as much as if we were out of state or in New York and wanted to present them,” Feld said. “It’s not inexpensive to do this but we’re committed to it, and right up the road we have one of the world’s greatest orchestras.”
These days, scheduling has become much tighter with the Cleveland Orchestra’s performance seasons at Severance Hall and Blossom, touring dates as well as residencies in Miami and Vienna. But Feld said it was especially important to schedule a date with Welser-Moest conducting for Tuesday Musical’s 125th anniversary.
“You get the Cleveland Orchestra and then you arrange everything around it,” said Feld, who also has baritone Thomas Hampson, the Silk Road Ensemble and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and Canadian Brass on the remainder of the current season.
Feld, 69, will retire from Tuesday Musical on June 30, so this 125th anniversary season is a very special one for her. She will leave the organization with 23 years of memories and the satisfaction of knowing that Tuesday Musical gained more than 300 new subscribers this year.
Each year, she has eagerly anticipated the Cleveland Orchestra’s arrival at E.J. Thomas Hall, where they normally arrive about 5:30 p.m. for a sound check. For years, she single-handedly made sandwiches for some 125 musicians to enjoy before their performances. Now, a committee including Dorothy Hansen, Toshie Haga and Joy Hagelin feeds the musicians.
“I believe once you start feeding people, it really makes a difference,” Feld said.
“It has been an honor for Tuesday Musical to present this incredible orchestra over the years. It is an incredible experience to hear one of the finest orchestras in the world play in Akron, and we are never disappointed.”
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.